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Veterans transform military uniforms into paper

By ANNA MEILER

NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. (WKTV) -- Veterans at Sitrin Health Care in New Hartford are telling their stories in a new way: by transforming military uniforms into paper.

"There's something inherent in the process of papermaking that can actually heal trauma in the brain in ways that can't be healed through verbal communication," said Margaret Mahan, Co-Director of the Peace Paper Project.

Worn in combat, the uniforms are destroyed beyond repair. Now, they're being cut into small pieces.

"For some people it could be that they've had a negative or traumatic experience and that by actually cutting up the uniform they feel like they're having this cathartic experience or the chance to reclaim what happened to them," said Mahan.

Then a machine breaks down the fabric into mushy pulp that is formed into paper and used to tell stories.

"You can see sometimes the pain that people have gone through, sometimes the losses that they've had and it's written on the paper and that's the healing part," said Jackie Warmuth, Vice President of Clinical Development at Sitrin Health Care.

Veterans said turning uniforms into paper isn't just about making art, it's also about starting a conversation.

"I don't often get lot of time with other service members because I'm out now. It's almost like, it's almost like you're forgotten about in a sense because you're not in that community anymore. So given opportunities to be in that community again is really important for these soldiers to be able to connect with other people," said Former Sgt. Jennifer Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army. For her, the first step was the hardest.

"I think its the whole notion of destroying the uniform," she said. "But, we're taking it and basically giving it a new life. So putting it to good use to make art, sort of like art therapy and you can put whatever you want on there. You can put a dedication to your fallen soldiers or to your friends or to yourself or just like uplifting messages, memories," said Fitzgerald.

For these veterans, sharing stories is the start of moving forward.
 
"All the uniforms may look the same, a uniform is a uniform. People's reasons for actually cutting them up are completely different and they're just as unique as the sheets of paper that they make" said Mahan.

"At first I was like, 'I didn't know if I'm going to be able to do it,' but I'm cutting up now and it's a little bit emotional I guess, but it'll be fun to make the paper out of it. To see the beginning and then the finished product, that will be the good part," said Fitzgerald.

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