Hear from veterans, artists, therapists, and  community arts organizations who serve the veteran community.

Stories From the Field

These podcasts provide an opportunity for the veteran and civilian community to have a shared experience of hearing from veterans, along with the artists who serve as art therapists, artists who represent community arts organizations that work in partnership with veteran medical facilities that serve our veterans, and organizations that offer resources and outreach to our veteran community. You will hear insights into military culture and the nuances of military life. These sessions serve to inform our civilian population and foster a foundation for clearer understanding and compassionate communication. Thanks to Gumbi Ortiz for the VetArtSpan theme music.

Theo Rooding

Moira McGuire

In this enlightening episode, your host Fred Johnson talks with Moira McGuire, retired nurse officer with the US Public Health Service and former Chief of Integrative Health & Wellness at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda. Highlights of her 30-year career include serving as Program Manager of Warrior Clinic and founding the first-of-its-kind Arts in Health program at a military treatment facility for the Defense Health Agency. The focus of her professional work has been supporting and advancing creativity and expression not only as essential elements in treating illness and injury but in preventing them as well. Moira presents some innovative ideas about how we should be including mental health and creative skills as part of standard military readiness measurements. The benefits of allocating time for creative expression are especially evident as military personnel interact with their families, their fellow service members, and the general public. Being creative is a crucial part of being healthy and ready for anything!

Theo Rooding

Theo & Brianne Rooding

Fred Johnson, the host and guiding light of these podcasts, sits down for a deep conversation with Theo and Brianne Rooding. Theo is an Army veteran who was medially discharged after a severe injury. His road back to civilian life led him and his wife to the Tampa Bay Area, and together were introduced to the Veteran Civilian Arts Ensemble at the Straz Theater. Theo worked with Guitars for Vets in Nashville, and his introduction to music therapist Natalie Quintana opened the door to expressing himself through music. As a veteran Theo was seeing the world as a dangerous place, but working with the Ensemble and experiencing the joy of music helped him to recalibrate his feeling. “The world doesn’t have to be a scary place,” says Brianne, “and it is wonderful to hear him immersed in his music.” Theo often provides the music for the Ensembles performances, and Brianne is still amazed that she is singing and dancing! Together they are sharing this opportunity to create something new.
Bernadette Dunn

Bernadette Dunn

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson has a wonderful conversation with Air Force veteran and painter Bernadette Dunn. A few years ago “Bernie” began attending the Straz Center’s Veteran Civilian Arts Ensemble, and she is now a key member of the group. Her connection began with the James Haley VA Hospital, where she participates in the whole-health “Drive to Thrive program.” In this conversation we learn about how the Veteran Civilian Arts Ensemble expanded Bernadette’s creativity to include dance, poetry, and further expanded her work as a visual artist. Working with the Ensemble, she experienced how to overcome that fear of diving into something new, like dancing in front of people. This joyful experience is helping her to make deep and meaningful connections between her blossoming creative expression and her peers in the veteran community.

Annie Okerlin

Annie Okerlin

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson has an enlightening conversation with yoga instructor Annie Okerlin, founder of the Exalted Warrior Foundation, which facilitates adaptive yoga instruction programs for Veterans, active duty and military reserves, as well as spouses and caregivers in VA hospitals and in community studio spaces around the country. Annie explains how yoga applies to the warrior’s view of their bodies, and helps veterans “be here now” through the use of breath. Many who serve in the military know how to turn on the warrior within themselves, but don’t always know how to turn that off. Annie’s work helps them to use their breath to pause rather than react as they go through the journey of reintegration into civilian society.

Dr. Mark Staples

Dr. Mark Staples

Guest host Cathy DeWitt invites Dr. Mark Staples into the Gainesville VetArtSpan studio for a conversation about his work in the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center. Dr. Staples is a cardiac surgeon and intensive care doctor, and he was a member of NASA’s medical team for over 50 shuttle launches. But he also serves veterans and their families through his music. He and Cathy discuss the reactions he gets when patients see and hear their doctor playing music for them in their room. You’ll hear some of Mark’s beautiful finger-picking, and Cathy joins in singing a magical song.
Urban Light

Urban Light

Intrepid VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson meets with Army veteran Urban Light to discuss her evocative journey toward becoming a spoken word artist. She is active in the Courage and Grace Foundation, which provides resources and support to women veterans. Through arts mentorship and the sharing of stories, the work helps build confidence for these women veterans (and their families) as they reintegrate into civilian life. Her own journey as an artist began with creative writing and grew as she became a powerful spoken word performer of her own poetry. In this episode we are privileged to hear two of her wonderful performances.
Samantha Sampson

Samantha Sampson

Join us as Fred Johnson gets together with Army veteran and poet Samantha Sampson. Her family has deep roots in the military, and she shares some of the inspirations that drive her to create her deeply personal spoken word creations. She is a member of the Vet/Civilian Dance Company at the Straz Center, and her poems were used in a multi-dimensional performance celebrating the 2021 Juneteenth anniversary at the Straz. In this episode we get a chance to hear two of her transformative poems.
Bill Hutchinson

Bill Hutchinson

Guest host Cathy DeWtt has an engaging conversation with Vietnam combat veteran Bill Hutchinson, who is a well-known musician, concert organizer, and raconteur. Bill tells several amazing stories, and perhaps the most compelling one is how sharing a song saved his life in a scary situation in Vietnam. Cathy and Bill even do a short reenactment of the moment! They go on to explore the way music can be a vehicle for change and how it creates a positive impact on the lives of both listeners and players.

Chris Stowe

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson talks with fellow Marine veteran Chris Stowe about Chris’s journey from being an Explosives Ordnance Disposal Technician deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan to becoming an accomplished artist working towards his Master of Fine Arts degree. His creative path began with a mask-making art therapy experience and has blossomed into his glass-making work with Operation: Art of Valor at the Morean Art Center’s Hot Shop. Chris is a mentor and an advocate for using the arts as a healing modality. His dedicated work with veterans is a model for how VetArtSpan and Creative Forces bring the creative experience to veterans and their families. 

Noah White and Anna Pasquale

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson visits with Noah White and Anna Pasquale, the driving forces behind the Creative Forces Open Studio within the Jacksonville-Onslow Council for the Arts in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Noah and Anna share their experiences as both administrators and artists serving the veteran community with a program that encourages and nurtures creative expression. This conversation (recorded in a video conference) reveals their deep commitment to providing a judgment-free environment where veterans and their families can safely explore the creative spirit that lives within us all. For Noah and Anna, this work begins with truly listening to the community, honoring their stories, and providing them with practical ways to dive into the creative process.

Reed Franklin

This episode of VetArtSpan features guest host Cathy DeWitt in an interview with Vietnam veteran and musician Reed Franklin. Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, Reed decided to return to Vietnam after being away from the battlefield for 40 years. This decision resulted in amazing experiences and connections: going to Hanoi for the first time, playing music for hospital patients and singing for children in schools and orphanages. The initial inspiration for the trip was a song he heard on Cathy’s radio show. We’ll hear a bit of that, and a special treat: Reed playing and singing songs he performs in hospitals, both here and in Vietnam. Learn more about Reed’s incredible story here.

Maxine Reyes

In this VetArtSpan podcast, host Fred Johnson has a conversation with Maxine Reyes, who talks about her life in the military with a husband who was also deployed, all the while while raising a child. Her transition to civilian life includes a re-blossoming of her artistic career as an in-demand musician. She is an active supporter of the veteran community and is a two-time recipient of the Humanitarian Service Medal and Military Outstanding Volunteer Medal. Her story is inspiring!

Expressive Arts for Veterans: Therapists and Artists

The VetArtSpan team visits two VA hospitals to talk with art and music therapists, musicians in residence, volunteers, veterans, and administrators about the impact of music and art on the veteran community. We start with Merrilee Jorn and Natalie Quintana at the James Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, continue with Diane Garrison, Jeff Hesch, and Cathy DeWitt at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, and hear from Geoff Hopkins, Chief of Recreation Therapy & Creative Arts Therapy at the James Haley Veterans’ Hospital. In these interviews we discover how creative expression makes a real difference in the lives of veterans, as well as the artists and therapists who work with them.

Women Veterans: The Creative Journey Home, Part 2

In Part Two of our story, we continue to explore the journey home for our veterans who transition back into civilian life. VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson interviews a group of women veterans who have embraced creative expression as a way to smooth their unique reintegration process. Many of these women are involved in the Diavolo Dance project, in conjunction with Straz Salutes. This two-part story was recorded at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, FL, as part of the VetArtSpan initiative.

Women Veterans: The Creative Journey Home, Part 1

The journey home can take a long time for our veterans who transition back into civilian life. VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson interviews a group of women veterans who have embraced creative expression as a way to smooth their unique reintegration process. Many of these women are involved in the Diavolo Dance project, in conjunction with Straz Salutes. This two-part story was recorded at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, FL, as part of the VetArtSpan initiative.

John Parks

Our VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson talks with esteemed teacher, choreographer, producer, and director John Parks. Fresh from his collaboration with Diavolo dance and a group of inspired veterans, John talks about how movement is a universal means of expression, and how “muscle memory” can give us a way to become fluent in the language of movement. Usually used to “feeding” his students, he and the veterans that he mentored as part of this Diavolo project were all “fed” by the total group effort. Working with veterans helped him to understand what the reintegration process must have been like for his father, a veteran of the Korean War.

Operation: Art of Valor at the Morean Arts Center Hot Shop

Fred Johnson and the VetArtSpan team spent a dynamic morning with a group of veterans who were creating a team-based glass sculpture – from concept to finished product. Moving together as one and handling the 2000 degree glass helps them stay in the “now” moment. They tell the story of art as a healing force in their own words. The program’s mission is to serve the military and veteran population through structured, hands-on learning that focuses on improving cognition, social interaction, physical dexterity, teamwork and confidence.

Jennifer Samuel-Chance

Our host Fred Johnson engages in a conversation with vocalist and inspirational speaker Jennifer Samuel-Chance. Her life journey moved through a career in business and morphed into the life of an artist. Blessed with a powerful voice, she sings opera and coaches people on becoming authentic storytellers. Her artistic journey lead her to show veterans that all stories matter. By helping them accept their own truth, she demonstrates how to dive into the creative process. “If you are truthful and authentic, people will see it, feel it, and get inspired by it, and that is all that you can do.”

Dwayne Scheuneman

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson guides us on a conversation with dancer and choreographer Dwayne Scheuneman. Dwayne’s life as a dancer is manifested from his heart, and from his wheel-chair. He evolved from the world of athletics to perhaps the unlikely world of dance, where he found the artistic expression of movement helped to tell his story, and helps many veterans live their stories through the experience of his dance. A member of AXIS Dance as well as his own REVolutions Dance company, Dwayne is a key participant in the DIAVOLO Dance performance that unites veterans with this world-renowned ensemble, set to premier at the Straz Center. Dwayne tours all over the world demonstrating the power of creative expression as a way to create community and give people a glimpse of their own power and freedom.

Victor Carlos Alcantara, at the Straz Center

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson interviews Victor Carlos Alcantara, a veteran of 20 years with the Air Force as an aeromedical technician. His love of painting started early in life, and after serving in Viet Nam and the Gulf War, he returned to his art to become a highly accomplished painter as well as building a successful career in public health management. Fred and Carlos talk about how being alert to opportunities can help in the reintegration process for newly retired veterans.

Belicia Adams and Alexis STIX Brown

VetArtSpan podcast host Fred Johnson talks with Belicia Adams and Alexis STIX Brown, who are the heart and soul of Paint22.com, an organization that provides welcoming art-making experiences to veterans and their families. Alexis and Belicia talk about their artistic process and how they help create those uplifting and creative experiences for the veteran families they work with.

Erica Guevara

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson has an enlightening conversation with Erica Guevara, wife of veteran Manny. She shares her thoughts on the Vet Civilian Dialog and how the experience brought connection and peace for her and Manny. She finds a new role for art as she and her family help to transition Manny back into the civilian life, and she rediscovers herself as a prolific painter.

The Bodge Family at The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson has an intimate conversation with Air Force veteran Ryan Bodge and his wife Tiffany and son Garrett, along with art therapist Merrilee Jorn and service dog Bradley. The family speaks of their shared experience both during and after Ryan’s deployments, and of how they all pulled together to support each other. Ryan tells us how tapping into the experience of making art and training service dogs helped him on his journey toward a positive reintegration.

Vet Civilian Dialog at the Inkwell Centre

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson leads a group discussion with veterans, their families, and civilians. This conversation is all about understanding the issues facing veterans, and the idea is to create a safe space for all to express their feelings about a variety of issues facing veterans as they reintegrate from active duty.

Dale and Valerie Kelley, with Guest Host Cathy DeWitt

Guest host Cathy DeWitt interviews combat veteran Dale Kelley about how tapping into his creative side helped him in his reintegration process after a long stint serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His wife Valerie, an accomplished artist herself, shares this transformative experience from her perspective.

Matt Piepenbrok from the Morean Arts Center Hot Shop

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson interviews glass studio instructor Matt Piepenbrok about his work with the veterans who come to learn the challenging and sometimes dangerous craft of shaping and blowing molten glass. Their conversation sheds light on how creativity impacts the veteran experience.

Merrilee Jorn and Natalie Quintana  from the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital

VetArtSpan host Fred Johnson interviews music therapist Natalie Quintana and art therapist Merrilee Jorn about the intricacies of their work with veterans in the hospital and the community setting.

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