Six String Heroes heals veterans with music

11:05 PM, Jul 14, 2013   |    comments
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By Mike Bush

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - If you've ever wondered, this is what healing sounds like.

"It is my medicine," said Iraq veteran Joe Oberender. "It's how I find relief from stress,"

Oberender is one of the volunteers with Six String Heroes who teaches veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to play guitar.

"Music has this magical way of letting you escape from the moment," said Oberender.

Oberender needed the escape. In Iraq, this former Marine used to have to find and clear improvised explosive devices. Still, he says coming home and finding a purpose was even tougher.

"It was really hard and it seemed like something was missing for a long time," he explained.

"Everybody wants to be a part of something else and when they get out of the military that's something they leave behind," said Kevin Sullivan.

Sullivan is one of the co-founders of Six String Heroes. As a health care administrator who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, he thought volunteering at Jefferson Barracks was a way to serve those who served.

"Little by little I could see things in the news with PTSD and suicide and chronic pain and things like that and realized it was time that I could do something for these guys," said Sullivan.

Every Monday night, the veterans meet in the VA theater or bowling alley and find a little harmony.

"We try to do anything we can to bring about increasing their self esteem through leisure," explained Debbie Touchette, a VA recreational therapist.

A lot of the students in the program are beginners, but if they stick with it for six lessons, they get a free guitar. After four years, Six String Heroes has given away 150 guitars.

"To me, the pretty sound drives away the bad thoughts," said Hallie Williams.

Williams was a mortuary affairs specialist in the Army, meaning he was responsible for dead bodies. He says thanks to this class he's able to strum away some of his nightmares.

"When I can't sleep at night, I get up pick up my guitar and I play music," he said.

There may be no substitute for trained therapy and counseling, but there is something about the music and camaraderie on these Monday nights that has these veterans singing a new tune.

"I actually had one guy last week, I said, 'Are you having a good time? Do you like it?' or whatever, and he said, 'Well, I come in a bad mood and I leave in a good mood. So it must be doing something,'" said Sullivan.

Six String Heroes, striking a chord with veterans and creating a new band of brothers.

They get no public funding. To learn more or to donate, visit their Facebook page.



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