Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.
On most Sundays, I gather with a few of my cohorts to share the power of music with military children through CAMMO Kids, part of the Center for American Military Music Opportunities.
A recent performance by our group (ages 6-17) of “This is Me,” the hit song from “The Greatest Showman,” left me particularly moved … even though I was sharing the stage with them.
I can only imagine the heartbreak they must feel at times, yet they sang with so much enthusiasm as they told their story through song. Our service members’ children come from a wide variety of backgrounds: Some are exceptional family members, some belong to Gold Star Families, and all are special to us and are loved.
We work with these children because we love it and because we know it provides a much-needed outlet for an integral part of our military family. CAMMO serves to enrich the lives of all military family members through music programming; over time, by some small grace, we help them become so much more than the trauma and difficulty they have endured.
Empirical research suggests that music stimulates parts of the brain in unique ways. Music therapists and researchers assert that people who have endured trauma can use the redemptive power of music not only to promote healing, but to facilitate growth. Researchers attest that singing has many benefits including lowering stress, increasing resilience and improving overall mental health.
CAMMO holds workshops for service members, veterans and their families; provides scholarships for guitar and voice lessons; and fosters artist development. Our programs include the Military Spouses Choir, CAMMO Kids and the Voices of Service.
These outlets of musical expression are vital as over the past several years, mental health care practitioners have sought various modalities that can help heal the psychological injuries caused by traumatic experiences. They have discovered that pharmaceutical interventions provide only a measure of relief.
Not everyone responds the same way to traditional methods of therapy. Some realize that their lives are forever changed due to their injuries and have found that music provides a direct pathway to growth and healing.
Some of the lives the program has touched:
- Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Donnie Isaacs, an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, says writing down his experiences and feelings about being in a combat zone offered much-needed therapy. His thoughts eventually turned into songs, like “The Man I Am.” He lost five soldiers in Iraq, and at the end of his Army career, a time that should be joyous, he shared with me that he had “just about given up on life.” Songwriting and music gave him a way to express his deepest thoughts productively, and offered a foundation for his healing and growth.
- Retired Army Staff Sgt. Ron D. Henry serves as the director of Voices of Service. During his deployment to Iraq, traumatic experiences overwhelmed him. He states that if it had not been for the gift of music, he is confident that he would not be here today. He explains that his faith in God through music has helped heal him and place him on a path toward growth.
- Eva Van Camp, a Coast Guard commander, says that her 8-year-old daughter, Madison, has developed a stronger love for music since joining CAMMO Kids. In just a few months, she has become more confident and made new friends. Madison is now taking voice and guitar lessons and experiencing her own path toward growth.
All of us gain strength, find healing and ultimately are changed by telling our story. CAMMO helps service members and their families use the power of music to tell that story. Our mission is to help them proclaim to the world that despite everything, “This Is Me!”
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason L. Hanna is an active-duty soldier and is pursuing a Ph.D in psychology. He is an advocate for military families and studies post-traumatic growth. His work with CAMMO includes being a mentor, coach and vocalist; learn more at CAMMOmusic.org.