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NEWS | Nov. 1, 2021

Recovering Soldiers Learn to Make Glass Works of Art

ARLINGTON, Va. — In July, a class that teaches recovering Soldiers to create glass artwork resumed after 14 months on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that it’s back up and running, it’s providing participants with a unique creative opportunity.

The glass blowing class is a one-of-a-kind adaptive reconditioning option for Soldiers assigned to the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Soldier Recovery Unit in Washington. It all started when the SRU and a museum collaborated in 2013 to provide art therapy. David Iuli, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the SRU, said that the partnership works well because glass blowing requires teamwork and attention, which can be therapeutic especially for those with injuries and traumas that happened while serving in the military.

“Art plays a huge role in the healing process,” he said.

Presently, the eight-week class is held multiple times each year. Prior to class, participants enjoy a meal and socialize. This helps them to build trust before working with hot glass together, Iuli said. During class, Soldiers get to think outside the box, create beautiful artwork and interact with others, he said.

The glass blowing class was Staff Sgt. Stacy Englert’s first opportunity to create such art. She explained that the introductory class shows participants foundational knowledge. It takes them behind the scenes in the museum and shows them what glass blowers do. They learn about things such as where the tools are located, what previous classes did and historical pieces by leading artists.

“It’s pretty interesting,” she said.

Englert felt overwhelmed as they showed her the tools and went over the rules, history and the artwork itself.

“Once you get started on it, you definitely feel anxious at first,” she said.

But that feeling didn’t last. She explained that once one gets into it, and out of their own headspace, they only think about the work at hand.

Over the last few classes, she’s been making beads in different colors and textures. They are about the size of quarter and can be put on items like keychains and letter openers. She may work on rings and glass straws in an upcoming class.

Englert truly enjoys torch work because it’s focused on artwork that is right there in her hands, other glass work is on larger and more elaborate pieces.

“The torch work is very, very small, eccentric pieces,” she said.

Englert explained that she has to concentrate because it’s easy to make errors on smaller pieces, which aren’t as forgiving as larger ones. In fact, a mistake on a small piece will ruin it because it can’t be redipped in the hot glass like a larger piece could. She described it as a good way to work on patience.

She said that the class is challenging, but also rewarding. One has to accept that failure is going to happen, she said. In that respect, she thinks it’s beneficial for Soldiers, veterans and those with PTSD because it’s a good comfort, safe space and a method to challenge themselves inwardly.

Soldiers can take intermediate and advanced classes after completing the initial one. Englert wants to take the intermediate class next. Currently, she’s doing a lot of torch work but the next class will have glass blowing. It will also consist of work on projects in pairs and groups, which will advance communications skills and teamwork, she said.

Englert also spoke about the camaraderie between attendees, which she believes is good for those who may not want to talk. She described the fellowship that occurred during dinner and in class as they cheer each other on and help one another.

She would tell others to try a couple classes to gain exposure and see how it makes them feel. Participants will not be in their comfort zone while there, she noted.

“Be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Englert said.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.