How to Hear Country Music Made by and for Combat Veterans

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Richard Casper is a Marine Corps veteran and co-founder of CreatiVets. (CreatiVets/Instagram)

When Richard Casper left the Marine Corps in 2007, not much was known about traumatic brain injury (TBI) or how it affected the veterans who were suffering from it. Art was his way of coping with it -- and it worked.

The music program he designed for veterans was a transformational way for returning combat vets to come to terms with some of their post-traumatic stress issues; to remember those they lost; and to create art in a meaningful way. So far, the program has helped dozens of veterans express through song what they could not say.

Read: How Veterans Tell Stories Through Song at the Grand Ole Opry

And now, we can hear the songs of the post-9/11 generation of veterans in one album. On July 3, 2020, the independent music label Big Machine released "Veteran Songs," an 11-track album of songs written and performed by combat veterans, with help from longtime country songwriters Heidi Raye and Johnny Bulford.

The album features songs about family, relationships, war, trauma and inspiration.

"It has been a dream of mine since we launched CreatiVets in 2013 to have our music released to the world," Casper said. "We know our music doesn't just help the veteran who wrote the song; it helps their family, friends and other veterans that feel connected through hearing their story for the first time or through shared experiences."

The albums can also be streamed through Amazon Music by saying "Alexa, play music by veterans" with any Echo-enabled device.

It all began with a drawing Casper made of himself at his best friend's grave site in Houston. How he colored the drawing allowed him to express himself in a way that words could not. Art was his medium back then. Today, it's music and song, which allows him to express the things he was and is unable to speak about.

Casper soon met Mark Irwin, the country songwriter behind hits from Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw. They teamed up to write a song for Casper's best friend Luke, who died in Iraq and at whose grave the former Marine drew himself years before. In three hours, the two wrote Luke's Song.

Casper found the experience so profound, he needed to share it with other veterans.

It was because of this experience that Casper teamed up with nonprofit advocate Linda Tarrson to found CreatiVets, a nonprofit that takes veterans backstage at Tennessee's Grand Ole Opry, to work with some of the best songwriters in Nashville to tell their own stories and put into words what has been on their minds for so long.

"Our big thing is that a veteran can share their experience, the story of their lives, for the first time because it's a song," Casper told Military.com. "It's a powerful thing."

Veterans aren't just given help writing their first song. They're given an entire course on country music songwriting backstage at the country music mecca. The idea isn't just to give veterans a song they can play or listen to, but a whole new method of expressing their thoughts and feelings to better cope with their experiences.

Afterward, many veterans keep writing, continuing the healing process. To find out more about CreatiVets, sign up for its programs or donate, visit its website.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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