Nebraska Military Vets Learning to Put Their Thoughts On a Page

Nebraska veterans at a Warrior Writers workshop in Omaha. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)
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February 27, 2020 - 6:45am

A writing program for military veterans has been around for a few years in Nebraska, but it’s still helping men and women sharpen skills many didn’t even know that had. The Warrior Writers project taps into a common bond and trust among military veterans and teaches them how to put their thoughts into words on a page.

At the front of a room with an American flag on the wall, Jen Stastny is ready to get things going.

“New year, new me,” Stastny said with a big smile. “I’m actually going to try to start on time.”    

It’s the beginning of another Warrior Writers workshop at the Willa Cather Branch Library in Omaha. Stastny is a facilitator here. She’s also taught English at Omaha Central High School for the past 22 years. She calls herself an introvert, but here, she’s a coach, head encourager and friend.   

Warrior Writers facilitator Jen Stastny. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

The Warrior Writers program has been in place in Nebraska since 2014 and has chapters in Omaha and Lincoln. There’s also a chapter in Grand Island that’s looking for a facilitator. These are mostly military veterans trying to improve.

“It does give them a family and it gives them a place to go and it gives them something to do that feeds a part of them,” Stastny said. “I mean, people who want to write do better, I think, when they have a community of writers to encourage them.”      

She says despite the name, these Warrior Writers don’t always write about their past.

“Some of them don’t want to write about their military experience at all, but I think it really helps them to feel comfortable being in a group of people who, to a greater or lesser degree, understand some of the most significant experiences of their lives,” she said.         

Warrior Writer Lupe Mier. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Lupe Mier was an Army medic in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. Now he’s a writer, mostly poems, but also short stories. Most of them are about his military service.

“It’s extremely cathartic. I’ve written probably over 100 poems of my year in Vietnam,” Mier said. "That’s how important it is to me and sometimes I go back and fix things up that I said, no, I’m not really that bad, I’m not that sick. It was something that I just had to go through.”       

In this group, Mier is one of the more advanced writers. The others kind of look up to him as a mentor who has been doing this for a while. At 75 years old, he’s ready for the next step.

“What I’m trying to do is to have someone to convince me that I should find a publisher, or someone to lead me to a publisher, so I can release some of the ideas and some of the thoughts that I’ve had,” he said.      

Jack Pryor spent six years in the Air Force and now works as a contractor at Offutt Air Force Base. He writes poems, but is also interested in writing horror stories. He heard about Warrior Writers through his wife and has been coming to these workshops for a couple of years.

Warrior Writer Jack Pryor reading one of his poems. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

“The thing that’s really be great is people have been supportive,” Pryor said. “I’ve never really had a lot of external validation or constructive critique of my writing, so that’s been really, really helpful.”     

The Warrior Writers workshops are free and include peer editing, ideas for stories and poems and help finding publishers. Terry McCarl has been coming for a few years. He was in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 with the Army’s 15th Medical Battalion, First Cavalry Division.

McCarl lives in Plattsmouth and makes the trip to Omaha on the weekends when Warrior Writers is in session.

“It’s a good place to meet and get some good concepts of writing-how to make your writing more readable, how to get people to read what you write, which is always a problem, because a lot of people look at something like that and say, well, I’ll read that later,” McCarl said. “And they never do because it’s too long.”    

Warrior Writer Terry McCarl. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Some of the subject matter is light, but not all of it. There were some harsh realities for McCarl’s unit in Vietnam.

“While I was there, me and my unit, I believe there were a dozen people that were killed in my unit, mostly Medivac people.”  

Jen Stastny, the facilitator, reads one of her own stories to the group. It gets some chuckles and smiles. For being an introvert, she’s comfortable in front of these writers. She’s not a military veteran herself, but has relatives who served. It’s a weekend job she plans to hold onto for as long as she can.

“It really is like a family, like I would never give it up,” she said. “Even when it’s difficult to schedule and I have a lot of other things I should be doing for my other job, I would never give this opportunity away and I’ll do it until they won’t let me do it anymore.”     

Increased funding for Nebraska Warrior Writers means this group will be able to meet seven times this semester instead of six. And they’ll all be back for the next session too, ready to share their stories with a group that has become a writing family.  

Editor's Note: By way of full-disclosure, the Warrior Writers project in funded in part by Humanities Nebraska, which also provides funding for humanities reporting on NET Radio.



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