Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, N.C. knows all too well how difficult the transition from military to civilian life can be. So last year Dina Greenberg, a teaching assistant at the school, started StoryForce, a writing group for veterans, along with some fellow teachers. And the college has enrolled more than 900 military veterans over the past year alone.
Thomas Rhodes was one of the StoryForce’s early, eager recruits. The Gulf War veteran has been devouring stories and books since he was a kid, but hadn’t considered writing about his war experiences until he joined the group. For the first time he wrote about how his friend Clarence Cash was killed in action 1991. Rhodes wrote about Cash in the story, “Me, Johnny Cash and the Gulf War,” recording memories he’d been suppressing for twenty years. The story concludes with Rhodes’ “Poem for the Fallen Soldier”:
Today I gave my life for a cause
No hesitation, no pause
Today was a good day.
Greenberg has researched the effects of PTSD, and thought writing would be therapeutic for the veterans. “We created a space where people felt comfortable enough to open up and share,” she told Pressley Baird of the Jacksonville Daily News. “It’s low-key. It’s not about course credit; it’s not about feeling like you’ve got an assignment and something that’s due next week. This is a place for you to feel safe. This is a place for you to feel that people are listening.”