Wounded soldiers turn to painting for therapy

Eight months ago, Daryl Walker discovered that many of the soldiers coming through the Warrior Transition Battalion had hidden artistic talents.

Within weeks the walls of the occupational therapy units outside Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center were covered in paintings, pencil drawings and other artwork.

For a while “it was just something cool for them to do,” Walker said, but he soon realized this program had potential.

The second phase of his vision started Thursday when instructional artists with the Morris Museum of Art came out to Fort Gordon to provide formal painting lessons to a small class of soldiers.

Matt Porter, the education programs manager, passed out paints, small white canvases and bits of advice.

“For some people, a blank canvas is intimidating,” Porter said. “Let’s pick a color you already have a good relationship with and slap it on for background.”

With a little hesitation, the five soldiers began applying blue, yellow and a familiar camouflage green with broad strokes across the canvas. Gradually, the pictures began to take shape as the soldiers added color and shape to their paintings.

“Just give up on the idea it will be perfect,” Porter advised as paint brushes began to hover in indecision.

Eisenhower’s Warrior Transition Battalion specializes in helping soldiers with behavioral health issues and those recovering from traumatic brain injuries – “hidden wounds,” as occupational therapist Judie Thompson calls them. Painting addresses multiple areas in which soldiers must improve, from socializing and developing concentration to fine motor skills.

Spc. Lynn Miller, who has been in the battalion since February, painted a surfer. She’s not sure what inspired the ocean painting, but Miller enjoys painting in her room as well.

“When I’m painting, the stress goes from a 10 to a 2,” Miller said. “It takes my mind off of everything else.”

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