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Comedy Boot Camp For Struggling Veterans
by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard - May 22, 2016

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"Chaplains are trained like regular Soldiers ... except without weapons. They don't give us bullets and rifles, but our bibles have full metal jackets," U.S. Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James King said to a room filled with U.S. Armed Service veterans and College of William and Mary student volunteers.

April 9, 2016 - U.S. Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James King, the deputy garrison chaplain for Fort Eustis, Va., and an Armed Service Arts Partnership (ASAP) student, practices his comedy routine during an ASAP comedy boot camp class at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. King is transitioning out of the Army and taking the class as a means to deal with stressors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
April 9, 2016 - U.S. Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James King, the deputy garrison chaplain for Fort Eustis, Va., and an Armed Service Arts Partnership (ASAP) student, practices his comedy routine during an ASAP comedy boot camp class at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. King is transitioning out of the Army and taking the class as a means to deal with stressors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

King is one of eight local veterans participating in the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) comedy boot camp that aims to build a healthy outlet for veterans to work through struggles ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression.

"We don't provide therapy; we aren't physicians, but there is something inherently therapeutic about laughter," said Ryan Goss, ASAP comedy advisor. "This is for a group of people who sacrifice so much for us, and I think it's sort of our duty to give back in this fun and creative way."

Whether veterans are looking to cross off a bucket list item or begin a comedy career, ASAP helps them not only achieve their goal, but tackle issues with which they struggle.

For U.S. Air Force veteran Darlean Basuedayva, uniting with fellow ASAP students helped her through a problem she felt only other former Service members could understand.

"It's as though that relationship you had with the military has been severed and you don't quite know how to handle that," said Basuedayva of getting out of the military. "This class has helped me to connect with other veterans ... some who experienced the same experiences I have, and understand how to deal with things that maybe no therapist or counselor can."

That like-mindedness in the classroom setting not only helps program participants like Basuedayva through issues, but it helps with expressing those issues -- through jokes, said U.S. Army veteran and ASAP comedy instructor, Fred McKinnon.

April 9, 2016 - Fred McKinnon, Armed Service Arts Partnership (ASAP) comedy instructor, gives an overview of the day’s rehearsal goals during the ASAP comedy boot camp class at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. McKinnon, a U.S. Army veteran, volunteers with ASAP to help fellow veterans express themselves through stand-up routines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
April 9, 2016 - Fred McKinnon, Armed Service Arts Partnership (ASAP) comedy instructor, gives an overview of the day's rehearsal goals during the ASAP comedy boot camp class at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. McKinnon, a U.S. Army veteran, volunteers with ASAP to help fellow veterans express themselves through stand-up routines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

"I know what they're going through as a veteran in dealing with anxiety and depression; and I know how it can be when you walk up to the microphone," said McKinnon, who works at Fort Eustis. "But the premise of the class is to get them to use their creative thinking in how they can sometimes turn their problems and issues into comedy."

Throughout the program, the students gain instruction not only from fellow prior Service members like McKinnon who perform frequently at local venues, but from their classmates as well. After each performance, the students give feedback and constructive criticism to ensure their comedic battle buddies get a good laugh.

For King, who is working through depression, the group kept him from holding onto troubles that he didn't know how to deal with on his own.

"It's very supportive," said King, of the class that prepares students to perform live at a local comedy club. "We're not trying to outdo each other; we encourage each other ... and give each other ideas to help improve."

"Without this class I would be a problem waiting to happen," King continued. "If I had not gotten help to find avenues to deal with the issues that I'm facing it would still be bottled up inside me. I don't have to put up a wall as much as I learned to be more open and expressive."

No matter the veterans' goals, the fellow participants, facilitators and instructors are all there to make sure the new comedians reach their highest potential not only on stage, but in other aspects of their lives.

"I didn't think the class was going to be so instrumental ... they have helped me to not feel judged and have pushed my confidence," said Basuedayva. "This thing that I'm doing, it takes a lot of courage to do. If I can do this, can you imagine some of the others things that I can do by breaking this barrier of fear. I can do a magnitude of things."

Learn more about Armed Services Arts Partnership

By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2016

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