War Veterans, Civilians Meet For Dialogue



At Intersections International in Midtown Manhattan, veterans and civilians meet regulary to improve their relationship to each other. Photo: Angela Jimenez

A group of about 45 people, civilians and military veterans, came together for a dialogue in early October at Intersections International, a Midtown non-profit organization working towards communication and peace-building projects.

“The Human Consequences of War: A Veteran-Civilian Dialogue“ is a series of programs intended to build a bridge between veterans and civilians, and to foster discussion about the impact of war on both groups. About 13 veterans and 32 civilians participated in the gathering, which included sessions that emphasized interaction and communication among the attendees. They came from diverse backgrounds, including civilians who were directly related to a soldier, others who lost a friend in war or some who had no direct link to someone affected by combat.

Larry Winters, a Vietnam veteran and mental health counselor, led the dialogue project, which focused solely on interaction and communication and did not include any sort of political debate. The evening also included theater performance, poetry, music and role-playing as attendees became part of the performances. Most of the sessions were held in small groups, where veterans and participants could express their emotions comfortably. One session let participants slip into different roles including veteran, enemy, mother or child in order to better understand different perceptions of war.

One of the aims of the initiative is for veterans and civilians to find out how war influences their relationship to one another. “I started coming to these events to explore and expand the relationship between me and my boyfriend,” said 24 year-old Rachel McGannon, whose boyfriend has been a Marine Reservist for seven years and got out in early October. “I became fascinated by the stories of the soldiers and war,” she said. McGannon has been coming to the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue events on a regular basis since about six months. She usually attends the events with her boyfriend, who is now in the facilitator program for the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue project.

The dialogue series was developed in 2008 as part of Intersections’ initiatives, to provide a space for people who are dealing with the consequences of war.

“These meetings are a chance for veterans to open up and connect with civilians,” said Don Coolidge, who has worked as a project coordinator for the program for over one year and had served in war zones including Kuwait and Iraq. “When I was studying, I felt that I couldn’t really talk about being a veteran. Other students didn’t understand what I had experiences and came up with difficult questions. I tried to avoid these conversations,” he said. “Intersections provides an environment for veterans where they can discuss their issues.”

“This topic has to be brought up in newspapers and other media,” said Pedro Perez-Ortiz, an elder at the West End Presbyterian Church, who trained in the army for two years.

Another Intersections project, “Cadence: Home,” a play about four veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan returning to the U.S., will run from November 7 to 10 and from November 14 to 17 at the Metro Baptist Church in Midtown West.