By Laura Castillo, AW2 Advocate
Recently, I had the honor of attending the “Wounded in Action” art exhibition with several accomplished female Veterans at the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC. It was truly amazing to share in their experiences, accomplishments, and passion to help wounded Veterans.
The exhibition is a tribute to those who served their countries in wars throughout the world. The art celebrates the strength and spirit of injured servicemembers, wounded civilians, and their Families, as well as the commitment of the orthopedic surgeons who assist them on their journey to recovery. The artists featured in “Wounded in Action: An Art Exhibition of Orthopedic Advancements” explore their feelings toward their wounds. The artists include military personnel who live with orthopedic injuries, Family members who helped during the recovery process, and orthopedic surgeons who treat wounded military members and civilians.
First, I met up with two of my AW2 Veterans, Leslie Wohlfeld and Paula Rivera, at Penn Station in New York City to begin our journey to Washington, DC. Having a degree in photography, Leslie escaped the stress from combat in Afghanistan through her artwork. One of her pieces, “Peace,” was submitted in the exhibit. Leslie’s mother recently passed away, and her mother was never able to go see her work at the museum. It meant the world for Leslie to experience that moment with fellow Veteran women who understand her pain and trauma.
Paula Rivera served 20 years in the Army, with two tours in Iraq. Paula suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and many other medical conditions triggered by combat. However, Paula is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. She is brave and has overcome war wounds and trauma, while raising a Family and maintaining a healthy relationship with her husband of 30 years.
Once we reached Union Station, the Wounded Warrior Project van picked us up and I met the gifted women in our group. Once in the van, I noticed a photo of group member Nancy Schiliro. Nancy is a former Marine who was hit by a mortar in Iraq. As a result, she lost her eye and sustained shrapnel wounds to her face. Nancy now works with the Wounded Warrior Project and is in charge of Project Odyssey, a series of rehabilitative retreats for women, men, and couples in various locations throughout the country.
Cara Hammer, another Veteran woman, also accompanied us. She served in Iraq and is now a representative for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Cara communicates local issues to higher chains of command, and identifies them on Capitol Hill in order to facilitate changes in warrior care—as well as address current needs, such as employment.
Maria Canales, an Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veteran, participates in wounded warrior support activities, such as the 10K marathon for wounded Veterans in New York. Maria has met many wounded Veterans and provides a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear.
Megan Gingrich worked as a nurse in the Air Force. She has provided medical care for our wounded Veterans and has seen first hand the trauma of war. She is a Reservist and continues her education as a pre-medicine student.
It was such an honor to be surrounded by phenomenal women. All have served this country and continue to serve our population as civilians. They were very well aware of AW2 and its mission. They have met AW2 Advocates throughout their journeys and believe in our program. It felt great to know that our mission is being executed nationwide. I was also amazed at their strength. I see how these women have taken matters into their own hands and have made a difference in the lives of others. We all share a passion to assist wounded Veterans.
Whether it is through art, personal sacrifice, Family and friend support, or individual drive, Veteran women are making a difference. I am thankful for the opportunity to meet these women and look forward to connecting with them in the future on our journey to accomplish our common mission—to help wounded warriors.
Editor’s Note: Wounded in Action: An Art Exhibition of Orthopedic Advancements is a traveling exhibit, if you are interested in viewing it visit their website at http://www.woundedinactionart.org/index.php for locations and dates.