Why We Do What We Do
We believe that studying history and telling stories can help heal the wounds of war. More specifically, we believe that all veterans — from all generations — have important stories to tell and that it’s imperative these stories be told in a way that leads to connection and understanding.
Who We Are and What We Do
Stronger at the Broken Places was founded in 2014 by David Chrisinger, a veteran transition expert and Associate Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. That same year, he developed and began teaching a popular college course, Back from the Front, that aims to help student veterans transition from the military to academic life. In addition, David edited a collection of essays, See Me for Who I Am, that aims to dispel the media-created stereotypes surrounding veterans.
David also leads writing workshops for veterans and their families and writes about veterans and veteran issues. Lastly, he assists college administrations and corporate employers create and sustain more productive relationships with veterans. To learn more about these initiatives, or to contact him about speaking or training faculty, click here.
Among the many lessons that can be learned from studying the history of veterans coming home from war is that war has always altered in countless ways the bodies, minds, and souls of the brave men and women who have endured it. Such is true for the war of annihilation the “greatest generation” fought against the Japanese during World War II, and it’s true for the shadowy, relentless wars of occupation their children fought in Vietnam and their grandchildren fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another lesson we should take from history is that while some are forever traumatized by the undeniably hellish things that happen in war, many more survive and return home more resilient, with increased strength and resolve. When we study these examples, we may find solutions that can be replicated.
What Does It Take to Heal?
Healing in the wake of trauma can be a painfully slow process. As one post-9/11 veteran explained it: “If I see someone struggling with the same kinds of problems I struggled with, I’d be empathetic. But I would also tell that person that the answer will not come from the VA. It won’t come from Congress. Every veteran has to make a decision. They have to wake up one day and say that, ‘This happened to me. It happened. But I’m not going to sit on my ass. I’m going to learn from it, from all of it, and I’m not going to let it define me or my future.’”
“Most of all,” he concluded, “I’m going to tell my story. I’m going to tell all of it. So that I may find peace and so that others will have a better sense of what we were asked to do overseas.”
Throughout American history, veterans have found their way home through storytelling and other activities, including running or hiking the Appalachian Trail. For others, they need to find a new sense of purpose, perhaps by finding ways to serve in their communities. Many have found solace in yoga and meditation. Others have simply focused on avoiding destructive behaviors by turning pro.
Keep in mind, however, that nothing published here at Stronger at the Broken Places should be considered advice — medical or otherwise. “To give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania,” wrote author and Air Force veteran Hunter S. Thompson. “To presume to point a man in the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.”
“All advice can only be a product of the man who gives it,” Thompson continues, “What is truth to one may be disaster to another.”
For those who have made the long walk home, there are many ways to find truth, a release, a solution. You have to find what works for you.
“As I see it then,” writes Thompson, “the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES.”
Does It Work?
Since founding Stronger at the Broken Places, we have seen firsthand the power studying the history of American veterans coming home from war and telling stories can have on new student veterans. At the end of the first semester, David asked some of his students what they thought about the class. Here’s what they had to say:
Thank you for all of the work you are doing, David. You are helping a lot of veterans, including myself, in ways we may never be able to repay.
The first year seminar class, “Back from the Front,” was a pretty helpful class for me. I was pretty shy and socially anxious for whatever reason. This class helped me open up and tell some of my stories I have been holding in as well. If it wasn’t for this class, I would not have joined the track and field team here at UWSP, and I would have regretted that for the rest of my life.
This class allowed me to push myself mentally to get over the barrier that was holding me back.
I found I was not the only person here who thought and acted the way I do. That was the biggest thing I took from the class. That, and I am not fucking crazy.
This was the best and most enjoyable class I took.
The most beneficial aspects were feeling like a person whose opinion mattered again, and learning how to cope with and move past the things I carry from combat. Since taking this class, I have been able to help several other guys from my platoon overcome their issues.
Going through this class and doing these projects has been almost a second form of therapy for me. It has brought my issues up from the rear and forced me to face them again and gain better control of them. Through participation in this class, I have also learned about my predecessor’s struggles and what so many before me have gone through as they transition from war to life at home.
Now that you’re here, take a look around. I promise that you’ll find inspiration that will help you on your own path home.
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Note: The essays and historical newspaper accounts posted on Stronger at the Broken Places are for informational and inspirational purposes only. Nothing contained on this site should be considered or used as a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are struggling, please seek professional medical assistance.