Elan Vital Media | Healing The Hidden Wounds
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Healing The Hidden Wounds

When I saw the notice for the Veterans Only special edition of Elan Vital, I knew I wanted to offer a set of my work for possible publication. I am an Army Veteran. I spent 24 years in uniform, and if they would let me, I’d still be serving today. I was a Medical Service Corps officer. I was commissioned in June 1978 and retired in June 2000. I later did a 2-year Retiree Recall to active duty from Aug 2011 through July 2013. My interest in photography started when I was a child reading my grandfather’s old National Geographic magazines. I got my first real camera in college and have been taking pictures ever since. I didn’t start believing people when they told me I was good at it until about 10 years ago, when I was in my early 50’s.

 

I live about a half hour drive North of Nashville. I wanted to have my subject for this set to be a Veteran also. I asked around. The only model in my area who was also a Veteran didn’t have any enthusiasm for the project. Eventually, I was introduced to Mike – Michael Knife-Hand Anzalone. He also lives about the same distance from Nashville, and about an hour’s drive from Fort Campbell, KY where he last served. He agreed to meet with me and told me his story. And it was so much deeper than I ever expected it to be.

 

Mike served 15 years as an Infantryman before being medically discharged from the Army. He had 2 combat deployments. Ramadi, Iraq 05-06, and Kapisa province & Wardak province, Afghanistan 08-09. His vehicle was hit by IEDs 3 times during those deployments. He told me about the woodwork pieces of art he creates, and how he stumbled into it after looking for something with a certain look to it and couldn’t find any. People loved it. His artwork is custom made with no 2 pieces the same.

 

Mike described for me how this work was remarkably therapeutic in his dealing with the PTSD he still deals with. How it seems to have a profound, positive impact on the Veterans he makes his pieces for. He showed me a short clip of someone presenting a piece to a Veteran who was visibly moved, fighting back the tears.
If this was all there was to Mike’s story, it would be more than enough to warrant my efforts to capture his work and try to present it to others and spread the word. But there was more. A LOT more.

 

Mike proceeded to tell me about his unit, Dog Company, 1-506the Infantry Regiment. He told me about the terrible things that happened on his last deployment to Afghanistan. About the death and injury suffered by his unit by the Taliban, but horribly exacerbated by the higher command! He showed me a copy of the book that was written about it. He asked me to read it to gain a better understanding. I obtained the audiobook and listened to it during a very long drive I had that week.

 

Mike told me that my timing was perfect because he and his brothers at arms had been having reunions every year at a place close by, and that this year’s reunion would happen the following weekend. He invited me to come out, meet many of the guys I would learn about from the book and take some photos of his brothers. He insisted that his story alone would not do justice to these men.

 

I listened to the book on my drive that week. I was moved. I was infuriated. I could picture the officers who were responsible for the hardships and eventual removal from service of key leaders in the unit. Good men that I believe the Army is less for by removing them. I had known such officers during my own time in service. Men who never should have been placed in Command. I highly recommend everyone read the book. It is “Dog Company: A True Story of American Soldiers Abandoned by Their High Command”.

 

When the reunion weekend happened, I drove out to the site feeling like I was very much an outsider about to tread on ground that was somehow hallowed by their presence. I felt extremely honored. I was welcomed into their presence and invited to participate in their activities. I captured images I felt best represented that gathering – the Place of honor for their fallen brothers, along with a copy of the book that tells their story; the unit colors and other emblems of their unit identity; the presentation of the most recent artwork made by Mike to their First Sergeant, one of the very good men who was removed from the service, unjustly in my opinion.

 

The day I spent with them went by in a flash it seemed. It was a time of healing; a time of looking out for each other. I distinctly recall overhearing conversations where one brother would be asking if anyone had heard from another who lived nearby, volunteering to go out and bring him to their gathering. Although my own sense of brotherhood and kinship with men and women I served with is strong, it was nothing compared to what I witnessed.

 

The following week, I visited with Mike again at his home and workshop to capture images of him at work. The current piece he was working on is pictured. We spoke about other artwork he created. He took me to a neighbor’s home and through his own to show me some of the pieces he has created. We spoke about family and the importance of family in the healing process. I was honored to photograph Mike’s beautiful wife and children with him.

 

My photos and retelling of my encounter with Mike and his own Band of Brothers only scratch the surface. Military service creates a bond. Combat makes one unbelievably stronger. Contact with the enemy can kill and leave permanent physical scars. But hidden wounds also occur and are made much worse by higher commands that do not care for the lives and well being of the soldiers they send into harm’s way. Mike is finding a path to healing some of those hidden wounds. He is helping some of his brothers and fellow Veterans to find theirs too. ~Dennis Schroader

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