It's got '60s peace and love all over it: sitting around a camp fire in the pines, writing songs and such as a hedge against the after shocks of war. Well, that's not exactly why LifeQuest Military Transitions organized their first music camp last July in Edwards, Colo., but that's pretty much the net result: some kind of healing thing materialized among the nine vets who signed up to turn their worst battlefield nightmares into pop music.
"We had no idea what to expect," says LifeQuest's founder, a veteran himself named CW Connor. "But we liked the idea of a music camp. People resonate with music." After four days there were enough reasons to send some of the veteran-penned tunes on to Nashville for proper recording. Once released on iTunes, "they hit pretty good."
Connor has a friendly drawl and he's quick with the memorable sound bite. He says things like "We can't afford another Vietnam," or, "we can't build more bridges to house these kids under," or, "these veterans are coming back alive, but their cages are rattled."
LifeQuest, based in Colorado, provides transition programs for military and their families mostly in the form of adventure racing, meaning somewhat perilous eco-challenge stuff like mountain biking and zip lining and white-water rafting. Connor himself began adventure racing in 2007.
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"When we started this, the suicide rates [among veterans] were just astronomical."
LifeQuest was eventually invited by the Warrior Transition unit to stage an event. The military liked what they saw and asked Connor for a program proposal. "By the way, they said, we don't have any money." Connor forged ahead as a non-profit. It was when he was out doing corporate-level fund raising that he learned how few among them knew anything about post traumatic stress disorder.
A universal language such as music was needed to get the word out about PTSD and wounded warriors, he reasoned. Hence, the idea to host a camp in which ex-military's songs would become kind of a Trojan horse for good: people would listen, and they would get the message. He booked four days in Beaver Creek last year and brought in an Austin-based musician named Darden Smith to run the show. The next all-expense paid camp will pair 10 vets with four songwriters in Colorado in January. With an album in the works, Connor says they have a tour planned in the fall.
"We just need to get the message out there about who these people are, and what they're dealing with." He points to the recent tragedy in Mt. Rainier in which the suspect in the murder of a park ranger is thought to be a troubled Iraq war veteran. "You're gonna see a lot more of that if we don't act."