impact

Their Stories
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In 2023,

The Heroes Journey impacted the warrior community in a variety of ways

Unlocking the Timeless,
Healing Power of Storytelling

For millennia, the enduring strength of storytelling has guided societies worldwide in reintegrating their warriors, processing the aftermath of combat, and transitioning back to civilian life. Veterans, Families of the Fallen, first responders, active-duty military, law enforcement, and their families all seek avenues to derive significance from their experiences. Explore how our storytelling workshops provide a journey toward healing and validation by reading the stories shared below.

Workshops hosted

Warrior storytellers

Last out - audience members

warrior storytellers - last out tour

Storytelling heals

Read Their Stories

Shana Chappell, Gold Star mom

Holly Higgins: One of our newest Gold Star Mothers whose 20-year-old son, Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui was killed at Abbey Gate on 26 Aug 2021 did not think she would have the strength to watch the play. She was nervous and expressed experiencing extreme anxiety. Less than a year after her son Kareem was KIA, her other son, Dakota died from suicide, and she has felt very traumatized. She also expressed feeling exploited by other organizations. I did not push, I just gently offered to introduce her to our trauma interventionists who would be available to offer her support around her trauma if she would like to come to the theater on Friday during the day. After meeting with Scott and the cast, Shana told me that she felt safe and wanted to come to see the play. Shana expressed feeling surrounded by love during the pre-show circle.

“I loved everything about the play Last Out. The way the play is done makes you feel like you are actually there experiencing everything they are experiencing. When the wife thinks her husband has passed away, she lets out a scream, I felt that scream, I knew that scream because that’s how I screamed when i found out my son LCPL. Kareem Nikoui was killed in the Afghanistan withdrawal on 8-26-2021. I tried to hold back my tears but I couldn’t because it brought me back to the night I was told I had lost my son. The part where she’s handed the folded flag, once again I relived the day I was handed that folded flag.

‘9-21-2021’ I remember feeling numb, in shock and like I was in a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. It was so amazing to me that a play could actually bring out so much in me, that I could connect in this way with a play. The workshop they have is amazing. It touched my heart to know that they don’t only help first responders, and veterans but they also help active duty and families of the fallen.

I got to meet so many wonderful people. Scott Mann who’s the lead in the play was amazing in every way and so kind. I met Gary Sinise and I was so touched about how much he cares about our military. He was very kind to me and thanked me for my sons sacrifice and service and he let me know how very sorry he was for my loss. He gave me a hug and it didn’t seem fake, it seemed like he truly cared about what happened to my son and like he was sorry for the pain I carry in my heart.

Up on stage they have a wall with pictures of fallen Heroes and other things to represent our fallen. I loved that all 13 of our fallen heroes that were killed in the Afghanistan withdrawal are on that wall. I left a bracelet that’s red, white and blue, it says “Kareem Nikoui” “Norco strong” on it. Norco is a small town here in SoCal that i grew up in and it’s also a town I chose to raise my kids in. Norco is a town that is kind, and everyone looks out for each other. When I lost Kareem, my town did everything they could to honor him and show their support. People who never met him cried because they were so hurt, he died so young but also so thankful that he was so brave and served our country. They are proud to say they are from the same town as LCpl. Kareem Nikoui. So that bracelet I left behind has meaning. It bears my sons name, and it reminds people where he came from and that a strong community creates strong people who care.

Knowing about the workshop they have has gave me hope that there is help available to me to help me as I grieve two of my sons and I’m not alone. I’m so thankful that Holly Higgins reached out to me and lovingly encouraged me to come to the play and to see the workshop.”

Gold Star Widow

“I am still processing and I am still in awe of the transformational experience we had with The Heroes Journey team. I’ve always had the feeling that I needed to tell people about my experience and share that there is hope and happiness after an unexpected loss, but I’ve just never known how to create that message. I also wasn’t sure I had the courage or the ability to get in front of people and share my story. This workshop showed me that I really do have a story to tell and I need to share it with others.”

rob & Maria Martens, Gold Star parents

Gold Star Parents of HN (FMF) Hospital Corpsman Marines Robert “Nathan” Martens KIA, September 6th, 2005 in Al Qaim, Iraq.

Last Out was a very special experience for our family. Although the story told was not exactly our story, it clearly demonstrated the impact & stress of the war & military service on both the war fighters and the families at home. Things the civilian population of our nation might struggle to understand. Last Out does an admirable job of demonstrating to everyone that war and everything about it is messy, painful, & complicated to everyone involved. We cried. We laughed. We were deeply moved. It was an honor to witness.

We were honored by the cast to place a picture of our son, Nathan, with dog tags, on the wall before the performance . The picture is of him on the day he deployed, posing with his wife and baby daughter. His family. Just the people this play is about. Knowing that this picture will travel with this crew, his brothers and sisters, and that they will honor and remember him and share his memory, means more to us than we can express in words. The pre-show circle on stage when we placed the picture on the wall absolutely was the best part of the evening. It bonded us into the Last Out family and gave us the certainty that Nathan would be honored and cared for by this family.

God bless The Heroes Journey and the Gary Sinise Foundation for including us in this experience. May God bless this cast and crew and heal their souls. May it bring peace and understanding to all who witness it.” – Maria

“I wanted to add to what we said about the circle. When we were first brought on to the stage, we were a bit uneasy. We are VERY protective of Nathan’s memory and are often a bit reluctant to share his story with strangers. The last thing we want is for him to be exploited or misused by people with an agenda. However, Scott and the rest of the cast immediately made us feel welcome and part of the family. Then, we knew Nathan was in good hands, his brother’s and sister’s hands, and that they would take good care of him and honor him and his memory. Thank you again for including us.” – Rob

Lynn Van Patter, Gold Star Mother

“This play was a moving experience with its raw language, humor and tears. And yes, I found myself in tears several times and laughing at others. But I came away with an uplifting feeling about the message to the families of our fallen and, I think, a better understanding of the veteran experience. I was heartened by the message this performance says to the veterans out there suffering from the ‘silent wounds’ of war. I also believe the families of the fallen can take comfort in what our heroes wanted their loved ones back home to know. ‘Danny’s’ letter to his son and wife was a message of love.

We, as citizens of our communities, must do a better job of supporting our veterans. I know this gave me pause to think about what I might do or say to my sons-in-law who have both served (and one who will be re-deploying later this year) in the days, months and years to come.

If one has the privilege to provide Scott and The Heroes Journey with a memento of their hero, I recommend you make it something that has true meaning to them. I gave Last Out the whistle my daughter, Brandie used while on the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Although it was somewhat hard for me to part with, I also know how much it meant to Brandie to have it. The whistle originally belonged to Brandie’s grandmother who used it in the training of her hunting dog. Even though her grandmother (whom Brandie was extremely close to) had passed away she cherished this gift and felt ‘grandma’ watching over her when she wore it. I know Brandie will now help watch over those who are lucky enough to see this performance.”

Ashley LeGrand Rawlings, Gold Star widow

“It was a great opportunity to reflect and gain a new perspective. Today is Damon’s 16th angelversary. I don’t believe in coincidences. We were meant to be there. It was very emotional for my oldest daughter. It was a good experience overall and a way for her to process those emotions!”

Ashley expressed appreciation for the time she got to meet the cast and felt honored that they honored her husband and cared for her family. Ashley’s and Jason’s daughter, who was two years old when he was killed and had just recently graduated from high school, was really touched that she got to do the count down in the pre-show circle when the case and crew and everyone else on the stage called out Last Out!

Michele Kostedt, Gold Star wife

Holly Higgins: Gold Star Wife of Jason Davis (USAF) who was killed in a training accident over North Georgia in 2006. Michele brought her husband and two close friends, none of whom have military connections. They expressed to me that they were deeply touched by the pre-show circle and loving support they witnessed their friend Michele receive. Michele placed a picture of her husband and hero, Jason, on the Wall. After the performance, through tears, she thanked me and asked me to tell the cast that it was powerful, and it comforted her heart that still pains her even after 17. Her friends and her current husband expressed feeling “…deep respect for our military and the sacrifices made for our freedoms”. They said they were so glad that they got the opportunity to come.

“I was looking forward to seeing the actors again and learning more about Scott Mann’s story as a green beret, but knew it would he emotionally challenging. And I was right, the story in the play touched on so many feelings and memories.

While my husband did not deploy or serve for many years, he was deeply committed to his values and had an intense love for his son much like the lead character Danny Patton. Then to see the struggles of Danny Patton’s wife at home as she got the fateful knock on the door and was given the flag at the funeral while Taps was being played, brought a flood of emotions and tears as I relived that day when my own hero and love of my life was killed.

When I was asked to bring something in remembrance of my husband so that the actors could include him in their memorial wall and dedicate the performance to Jason and his service to our country, I was so touched! Jason would have been so honored to be remembered in this way. This play honors the sacrifices of our military members and their families at home and it really portrays the inward struggle that the service member continues to face even when home with their families. The story is well written and I think will be very healing for so many.”

Military Mom

“In San Diego, quite a few of us were able to attend Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret play. It was truly an experience and a way for me to not only intellectually understand war and the impact on the warrior and family, but I felt it. I felt like I was there, I felt like I was another warrior with the stress of the battle and the deeply touch choices that had to be made. I felt like I was there with the family when they experienced the disappointment of the absence, and then the loss of their warrior.

I am now a mother of an Army Ranger and have spent quite a few years reading, listening, and understanding the military culture so that I can best advocate for our Protectors. The power of storytelling on the stage really can’t be beat. From being involved in the storytelling workshop in the morning, then meeting Gary Sinise and actors before the play and then going to the play itself, made me feel like I had another family in this arena. The warmth and professionalism made the experience a very safe arena when inviting our Protectors, and civilians into a vulnerable setting in order to heal, educate and connect. I felt that this was a perfect venue for ALL to understand more fully the Cost of War from different angles.

The Last Out team will always have my heart. My respect for the Gary Sinise Foundation for seeing the value of what Scott Mann brings through The Heroes Journey and Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret. I will continue to share about this experience and send people their way.”

Military Veteran

“The Heroes Journey collaboration delivers an effective – and much needed – approach to healing veterans and their families. I was truly impressed with the openness of the coaches and their conspicuous willingness to help me and my family succeed in resolving trauma.

I appreciated the class about how trauma bypasses the working memory process and wreaks havoc on the pre-frontal cortex, and how writing and telling must include images. I’ve written and told my story before, but adding ‘images’ completes the catharsis. I’ve used the CIT multiple times and am grateful for its immediate positive effects to bring ‘peace’ in as few as five breaths.

Amazing. Thank you for providing a safe space for use to heal.”

Military Child

“Participating in The Heroes Journey’s ‘Generosity of Scars‘ Storytelling workshop has been
an incredible journey for me as a military child. It provided a unique platform where I could
explore and express the emotions that often accompany the hardships we face.

Through the power of storytelling, I learned to embrace my scars and use them as a source of strength. Sharing my experiences and listening to others’ stories allowed me to connect with a
community that truly understood the challenges we go through.

The workshop equipped me with valuable tools to navigate my emotions, fostering resilience and empowering me to face any difficulties with a newfound sense of courage and understanding.”

Donna Mueler

“How am I feeling having been through the workshop? GRATEFUL, humbled, honored, thankful. The whole day was so incredible. Your team did such a fantastic job. You all made it easy to start our storytelling journey.

Like countless others, Mark and I have faced some pretty dark and difficult times following his 25 yrs of service and combat deployments. Thankfully we have both done everything in our power to overcome and find the joy in life. Our ability to continue living positively is, in great part, due to the work of people like you and your team. Know that your work is more meaningful than I could ever describe. It makes a difference. Such a HUGE difference. Thank you for all you do and your encouragement prior to the event. Mark and I have had many important conversations following our day with you. Something we will make a point of doing for our lifetime. We keep checking in.

A couple of our friends attended the performance of Last Out the same night we did. I received the following text from one of them:

Oh my gosh no apologies necessary. I completely felt “off” or “out of it” myself after the performance. We actually all were and had a great discussion on the drive home. I was feeling quite torn up inside and felt like my brain was working in high gear to process what we had just witnessed. I am still feeling like I will never be able to adequately express all the emotions “Last Out” evokes.

Donna, you have always been raw and candid about your experience as a military family. That said, I’ve always known there are certain aspects that you hold back for many, layered reasons. I believe among those reasons is a feeling or need to protect your friends from the true horror of war and all it’s devastating fallout. To see it, hear it and feel it in the way those incredible service men/actors presented it….I’m still choking down tears. The way all perspectives were represented was so key to the storytelling. I had all I could do to not jump up and come hug you when “Lynn” hit the ground, screaming. My God, how many times you must have experienced those exact emotions. I know as a civilians, we will never completely understand and relate to the depth of sacrifices on all levels that was simply Mark’s and your DAILY life for YEARS. I am grateful though to you for sharing the information about this production and to all involved in bringing it to the stage in order for us to have even a peek into what so many have sacrificed and experienced.

I am also incredibly grateful to Gary Sinise Foundation, The Heroes Journey and all who facilitate your gathering for workshops, story sharing, and support with so many who have walked in your shoes and have the unique understanding so many will never truly be able to grasp. What a blessing that must be. I pray that in all of it you and Mark feel seen and heard and understood and most of all that there is healing that comes from it. I am so proud to be your friend and so very grateful to both of you for ALL you have given. Love to you and Mark.

This brought me to tears. A testament to how important your work is. Mark and I will do our best to continue sharing our story in an effort to help others who have walked in our shoes feel less alone and help those who have not to understand. God Bless you Kim and all of you. What you do matters. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Veteran

“I was referred to The Heroes Journey Generosity of Scars through a friend, a three time purple heart recipient. I spent 40 months in Iraq and Afghanistan and have spent nearly 9 years trying to put all those experiences into proper perspective – the guilt, pain, and sadness. In a matter of hours with you all, I feel at peace, like not just the way people say those words, but actually experiencing a sense of calm. Please keep doing what you are doing, you are changing lives and are a force for good.

Gold Star Sibling

“Thank you for helping us tell our stories in a powerful and meaningful way that people will remember! The amount of love and support you gave us gave us a safe place and that’s all we need!”

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If you would like to make a donation by mail, checks can be sent to:

The Heroes Journey
10312 Bloomingdale Avenue, Suite 108-193
Riverview, FL 33578

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