The story of The Graffiti of War Project (GoW) began in the business world ten years ago, on 9/11. Jaeson “Doc” Parsons, GoW's Founder and Director of Operations, was far from the military then, working as a derivatives trader in Chicago. On that fateful morning of 9/11, he was on a train headed to the Chicago Board of Trade when he heard the news about the World Trade Center.
He was immediately concerned, as he had quite a few trading partners in the WTC buildings. As soon as Jaeson hit the trading floor, he knew that the markets had been reacting. With one eye on the Bloomberg trading screen and one eye on the television, he continued to make trades.
Then the second plane hit, and the markets went haywire. At the time of the attack, some of Jaeson's NYC colleagues were clearing their books (flattening out their trading accounts) before leaving their desks, and many of them never made it out of the building. His options dealer was at the corporate office across the street from the WTC, giving Jaeson's Chicago office a play-by-play account of the events as they unfolded.
|Representative GoW Images of artwork by U.S. Troops|| |
Through his updates on the direct-line, Jaeson first heard about people jumping out the windows of the WTC, and it shook him to the core. Just like so many other Americans, Jaeson's initial reaction was, “I want to go to Ground Zero and help, join the military, do something,” but his wife had objections to this idea.
Three years passed, and Jaeson ended up taking a job as the Director of Institutional Sales at a brokerage firm; however, his desire to join the military only increased as the months turned into years. After separating from his wife, the first thought that came into his mind was how he could enlist. He called a recruiter in 2004, just after the third anniversary of the attacks, and told him that he was interested in joining the Special Forces.
Meanwhile, over dinner with some old colleagues in NYC, the subject of 9/11 was brought up, and how much money the traders had made on that day. A former colleague then remarked that he wished there were more 9/11's because of the money to be made.
Jaeson immediately got up and left the table, feeling sick to his stomach. In his bed at the hotel room, he tossed and turned all night, contemplating how he had a love/hate relationship with his job. The next morning he called his recruiter again, and he was at the MEPS building within a week. Having failed the color-blindness test, the only job available to him was combat medic. Jaeson signed up for the job that day, and a month later he was shipped out to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for Boot Camp.
If Jaeson had never joined the military, he never would have gone to Iraq and witnessed first-hand the devastation of war or seen the random graffiti and murals scattered all over the military bases and city walls. He never would have experienced the debilitating effects of post traumatic stress disorder, and his idea for the project never would have been borne out of his desire to help others afflicted by PTSD.
Thankfully, though, Jaeson did answer “the call,” and his seedling of an idea has now become a thriving organization with a twofold mission: to bridge the ever-widening gap between military members and civilians, and to promote alternative treatments, including art therapy, for “the invisible wounds of war” incurred by veterans during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. With the aid of several nonprofit partners—to include Give an Hour (GAH), The Center for American Military Music Opportunities (C*A*M*M*O), The National Security Leadership Foundation (NSLF), and Celebrate the Military Child (CtheMC)—The Graffiti of War Project is able to tackle this ambitious mission.
For the last two years now, the GoW team has been working tirelessly to collect and document the artwork created by military veterans, local nationals, and even civilians—specifically originating in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Much to the surprise of Jaeson and his team, thousands of images started pouring in from all corners of the world into their growing website and social-media pages, and their vision for this artwork slowly began to fall into place. (See Images from Troops Serving In Iraq and Afghanistan video)
Immediately, following the team's summer expedition to Kuwait and Iraq, several art galleries expressed an interest in exhibiting this “conflict art,” and that is when Graffiti of War made the decision to take their project to the next level: a National Gallery Tour. Their first exhibition will be hosted by Block of Art in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, with the opening show appropriately scheduled for Veterans' Day, 11-11-11.
Many of the incredible images already captured by artists, to include the renowned photojournalist Zoriah, and by the project's own team members will be on display at six separate venues in Pottsville. In anticipation of the tour's success, GoW is already making plans for the next shows, to include New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The National Gallery Tour is just one way the GoW team is attempting to accomplish their mission.
Of the eight members who comprise GoW's international team, only one of them is currently an active-duty service member. However, each of the members has a very personal motivation that is derived from their own military background...
Melissa “Mel” Parsons, Jaeson's wife of almost 6 years and GoW's Director of Creative Design, helped Jaeson cope with the effects of PTSD, then became his “right-hand man” as he launched the organization.
Luis “Junior” Jurado, GoW's Director of Social-Media Sites, has served his country for years, both as an enlisted member of the U.S. Army and now as a contractor.
Jenny “Jen” Bell, GoW's Editor and Spouse-Advice Columnist, has supported her husband through three deployments to Iraq and volunteered her time to help military spouses.
Jason “SSG D” Deckman, GoW's Director of Web Technology, has been a U.S. Army service member since 1994, both active-duty and now reserves.
Inge Bakker, GoW's Director of European Operations, has several friends who serve in the military and is a longtime supporter and advocate for troops worldwide.
Stephen “SSG Q” Quarles, GoW's only active-duty team member, joined the U.S. Army straight out of high school and has been all over the world, including two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.
- Andrea “Andi” Sandoval, GoW's Director of PR & Marketing, is a decorated U.S. Army veteran who served during the initial invasion of Iraq, and she sums up the team's overall vision quite well... “I work for Graffiti of War because I want to make a difference in the world—a difference that will lead to a more compassionate, tolerant, peaceful world.”
And it is this vision that sustains all of GoW's team members and propels them forward in their attempts to "bridge the gap" and . . . "heal the invisible wounds of war".
Please visit The Graffiti of War Project for more information about how you can help.
By Jen Bell
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