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Hot Shop Heroes at JBLM

Tacoma's Museum of Glass "Mobile Hot Shop" offers glassblowing at JBLM

Hot Shop Heroes instructors Chris Schuelke and Conor McClellan show servicemembers from JBLM’s Warrior Transition Battalion how to shape glass still hot from the furnace. Photo credit: Christina Butcher

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A decade ago, military doctors didn't prescribe yoga, massage therapy, chiropractic work or art therapy to servicemembers in pain, whether it was physical or psychological. Times have changed, though, and military doctors nowadays not only acknowledge the value of nontraditional treatment methods, but prescribe them, as well. Servicemembers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) experienced those changes firsthand last week, as JBLM's Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) partnered with the Museum of Glass' Hot Shop Heroes program to bring glassblowing and art therapy to JBLM with their "Mobile Hot Shop."

"This is an outlet for us," said Army Sgt. Ashley Rayam, a servicemember in the Warrior Transition Battalion who participated in one of the Mobile Hot Shop glassblowing workshops last weekend. "It helps us focus on things outside of what brought us to the Warrior Transition Battalion and release some of the added stress from things we've got going on."

The Mobile Hot Shop is a 40-foot-long truck complete with glassblowing furnaces, flameworking tools and raw materials. It was parked at JBLM from June 22-24, offering half-day workshops on glassblowing and flameworking to servicemembers of the WTB and the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Intrepid Spirit program out of Madigan Hospital. Led by Hot Shop Heroes program manager and artist Greg Owen, the Mobile Hot Shop was manned by glassblowing instructors Levi Belber, Patricia Davidson, Rich Langley, Conor McClellan and Chris Schuelke.

"It gives soldiers something to look forward to," Owen explained. "Soldiers really jive with all the elements that make for glassblowing. For them, the amount of focus it takes to work with the material - just imagine you've got a 2,000-degree drip of glass on the end of a six-foot metal rod you're trying not to drop on the floor, or your foot - makes everything else fall away. They can forget their pain and endless physical procedures and meetings."

The Mobile Hot Shop is an extension of the Hot Shop Heroes program at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, which started in 2013. Hot Shop Heroes provides art therapy for military personnel and veterans coping with service-related trauma and injuries. It consists of eight-week-long courses in introductory and intermediate glassblowing offered three times a year.

Owen has been managing Hot Shop Heroes for the last three years and working with the Museum of Glass for six. "It's amazing because the soldiers are without fail our best students," he said. "They're great at taking instruction, they're good at working in teams in impromptu situations, and the element of danger seems to be calming for a lot of the folks we work with. It's a cathartic event."

In addition to servicemembers from the WTB, JBLM TBI Intrepid Spirit program participants were also invited to sign up for glassblowing instruction through the Mobile Hot Shop. Army Col. Beverly Scott, director of the TBI Intrepid Spirit program at JBLM, visited the Mobile Hot Shop on Friday after servicemembers in her care attended the workshops.

"During the short period of time they're working with glass, their entire focus is on the project," said Col. Scott. "It's liberating. They don't have to focus on some of the difficult combat experiences, memories or physical symptoms they're dealing with every day. They can put all that aside and experience incredible art. It's not something they've experienced through their military careers."

Col. Scott, who has served 32 years in the Army, leads one of only eight Intrepid Spirit programs in the country.  The program treats servicemembers suffering from TBI and psychological health conditions following trauma and deployments and offers an interdisciplinary approach to healing. It integrates nontraditional modalities of care (such as art therapy, yoga, and massage therapy) into treatment plans.  "This is a new care model, and it's a challenge. Everyone is working together to help servicemembers on their road to recovery," concluded Col. Scott.

The Hot Shop Heroes program at the Museum of Glass was partially made possible through a Washington State Arts Commission grant. To donate to the program, visit museumofglass.org/hotshopheroes.

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