Over 100 people attended this year’s iteration of Portland State’s Veterans’ Voices event where five service members from the Army and Navy shared accounts of life on active duty.
This year’s event, hosted in Smith Memorial Student Union’s ballroom by the Veterans Resource Center, saw a significant increase in attendance compared to its debut last year.
“Last year it was a small project; we didn’t have as much publicity and it was thrown together in a few months,” said Ray Facundo, coordinator of Student Veteran Services and a participant in Veterans’ Voices. “This year we had a lot more planning time.”
“We’d been talking about it all year, we brought in the combat paper workshop as a supplement to it, and it went from about 30 people to quadruple our number,” he continued.
The demographic split in the audience was also wider than last year’s. Facundo reported that 76 were students, 14 were staff and faculty, and 25 were community members unaffiliated with PSU.
PSU’s Veterans Service Department hosted the event and reached out to PSU alumni and Army veteran Ryan Stroud, founder of Communitalks, a program designed to foster creative storytelling within communities.
Stroud spoke about the importance of sharing the stories of service members with citizen populations.
He also pointed out the benefits of service members engaging with their service history creatively.
“It’s always an incredible process to watch people choose a story,” Stroud said during the event. “Oftentimes, they’ll come to the process with a specific story they want to tell, and two or three workshops later they’ll say, ‘I can’t tell that story, there’s a different story I need to tell.’”
“There’s a lot of reasons we need to tell the story we need to tell, but it doesn’t matter what the reason,” Stroud continued. “Every time I see somebody start down that path with that story, there’s a transition that takes place. We find ourselves in our own story. We find ways to look at the world around us.”
The two-hour event was split between former service members and PSU students Spencer Williams, Facundo, Sarah Garland, Matt Gieger and Stroud.
Presentation topics ranged from informational to the profound. Garland, for instance, chronicled her transition from latrine duty to supply management as her unit constructed a military base in Iraq. Gieger delivered an account of the events leading up to his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The event, according to Facundo, attempted to bridge gaps between veterans and a national population that is increasingly disconnected from military culture.
“You don’t hear the behind-the-scenes stuff that you always see in movies about war,” Facundo said. “There are so many different experiences to war. We want to take that perception of Veteran culture, where it’s nothing but post-traumatic stress disorder and readjusting all the time, and show a more human aspect.”
Feedback from event attendees showed that they succeeded in communicating that goal, according to Facundo.
“I think it’s crazy valuable for people to tell their stories, and also it’s valuable for the listener,” said attendee Lisa Stinges. “One of the speakers shared a quote about what it does for stereotypes [of military personel] to hear multiple stories instead of just one.”