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ASU's Guitar For Vets provides harmony to veterans

This club helps veterans transition into civilian life while also providing a place of community

Nick Pompliano, who has been playing guitar for 10 years, teaches leads a group at the Guitar for Vets meeting on Oct. 14, 2016, in Tempe, Arizona.
Nick Pompliano, who has been playing guitar for 10 years, teaches leads a group at the Guitar for Vets meeting on Oct. 14, 2016, in Tempe, Arizona.

Members of ASU’s Guitar For Vets strum the chords to “Knocking On Heaven’s Door,” find their internal rhythm with drum circles and excel themselves through music.

The organization is a musical group for veterans, offering them support through the transition from life in the military to life as a civilian.

Jeramey Reamer, veteran and global technology and development graduate, first heard about the club when he read a news article about ASU’s Guitar For Vets. He was just getting out of the U.S. Air Force and transferring to ASU when he decided to volunteer with the club.

Reamer said the organization uses music to empower the individual, giving new structural habits and opportunities for members to transcend themselves.

This community provides a safe space for veterans, especially those with PTSD, to talk about their challenges and empathize with one another. While club members are typically veterans and music therapy students, it welcomes anyone who expresses interest.

Reamer said members are able to see how they progress musically and watch themselves improve both in their transition from military life to civilian life and in their guitar skills.

Reamer said common symptoms of PTSD are negative thoughts circulating the mind.

“You get stuck in your own head,” Reamer said. “It’s kind of like repeat thoughts that just don’t ever stop, and a lot of times those are very negative thoughts, and myself included. So the music is a way to stop and break those thoughts and introduce healing sounds, healing music. It’s like meditation, it’s like a mindfulness practice.”

Cole Von Roeder, veteran and anthropology and history junior, said he went straight from the military to being a student. He said the transition was strange and difficult, changing from one cultural extreme to another and started to get down on himself and his habits.

Von Roeder was introduced to the organization when it was promoted at ASU, and he wanted to learn guitar in a consistent manner where he could improve his skills.

“I’ve wanted to learn guitar for years,” Von Roeder said. "At this point in time, I’m learning to transition a little bit faster and waiting to learn how to pick.”

From the basic chords to more advanced skills, members of the club each have a variety of skill sets.

Many club activities involve the group as a cohesive unit while learning the chords to a song and sometimes discussing the lyrics. For the more advanced players, the leaders of the group can individually work with them on more difficult chords, progressions and other skills such a hand-picking.

Eternity Stallings, music therapy junior, said that the group sometimes splits into smaller segments according to skill level to learn a song, the more basic members learn the song through power chords and the more experienced members use advanced chords. The session ends by bringing the group back to play the song together.

From a music therapy perspective, Stallings said Guitar For Vets has students engaging in music by working through lyric analysis, improving motor skills and teaching someone to play an instrument for a community aspect.

“I like how it’s very people-centered,” Stallings said. “It’s not necessarily about like, ‘Oh, by the end of this you’re going to be a professional guitar player.’ It’s really about building community between students and building community between veterans as well, and working on things together and learning new things together. I like how it’s like a growing community experience.”

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