Sometimes the most powerful stories to be told are bottled up inside ourselves.
This past March, many Bronx veterans enlisted into a new reading and discussion series titled ‘Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian’ at their local libraries which aims to aid former service members’ transition back into civilian life.
The free program is named for a published anthology containing such famous literary works as Homer’s ‘Iliad’ in addition to personal accounts from Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans.
Sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities, ‘Standing Down’ was created for Talking Service which serves the Great Books Foundation’s mission to foster reading and discussion programs for veterans, their families and friends in addition to their caretakers and service providers.
Jeremy Warneke, a United States Army National Guard veteran, serves as the Morris Park Library edition’s discussion facilitator and explained ‘Standing Down’ is ultimately about giving back to those who have given so much.
Both writing and reading have been huge passions for Warneke, a Sarah Lawrence College graduate, who has been attending writing workshops since 2009 and whose writings have been published.
He cited one such program, New York University Veterans Writing Workshop held at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House in Manhattan, in which veterans meet every weekend during the school year to discuss, write and critique published as well as unpublished works of literature, as being one which helped inspire this idea of paying it forward.
Warneke explained the workshop aided his friend, Phil Klay, a former Iraq War Marine public affairs officer, who also began attending the workshop the same year Warneke did and who was a 2014 National Book Award Winner for his published collection of short stories, ‘Redeployment,’ which is mostly about individual experiences set in Iraq and the United States.
“We’re living in a time when veterans are generally more accepted by society than they were in previous decades,” Warneke said.
The Morris Park Branch’s ‘Standing Down’ has seen a great turn out composed of veterans from all eras and their families as well as civilians, according to Warneke.
“I thought this program was very helpful because veterans don’t tend to speak openly about their experiences and sometimes get lost inside themselves, but this program has helped everyone become more open to sharing those experiences,” Earl Menard, Vietnam Navy veteran shared. “I hope they continue this program and eventually bridge it together with the VA because veterans need things like ‘Standing Down’ to help them in their lives.”
“I find this program to be very interesting and listening to these veterans’ personal stories as well as their unique perspectives on what we are reading helped me as a civilian better understand exactly what they went through and I believe this program has helped them find some peace and comfort in sharing those experiences with others,” Andrea Siegel, a veteran supporter expressed.
“I think the discussion group is great as it’s always interesting talking about war with other veterans because you have empathy with each other despite the generational differences,” Doug Condit, Jr., a Vietnam combat veteran divulged.
The reading and discussion series will hold its finale on Monday, June 1 from 5:30 until 7 p.m. inside Morris Park Library.
“It’s brought a lot of veterans to this library and it’s absolutely rewarding seeing them coming together and make new lasting friendships. They love this program so much, they don’t want to leave after it’s over,” Grace Tellez-Cardona, Morris Park Library senior librarian revealed. “We want these veterans to know we are always here for them.”