U.S. Army veteran Jason Moon was eventually able to use music to lift off the crushing turmoil piled upon him by war.
He was a performer and songwriter before entering combat, but nearly lost his life to post-traumatic stress disorder before he could once again put pen to paper in earnest.
In doing so, “I felt like I was finally owning it as opposed to it owning me.”
For all of his own experiences, Moon didn’t fully grasp the powerful healing properties of song until bringing his truth — and his outlet — to others who were also struggling.
They too have found weight taken from their shoulders.
And so emerged Warrior Songs, a nonprofit founded by Moon, which uses songwriting and the arts as an avenue of healing for those suffering mentally and emotionally as a result of their military service.
Moon will be in Oshkosh on Sept. 12 for a fundraiser for the organization. The event, Gepstock 2019, is a homecoming and he’ll perform with old friends from a time when his music career didn’t include saving lives.
In November, his organization released “Women at War: Warrior Songs Vol. 2,” a collection of 15 songs built from the testimony of women who served and came home to suffer.
This coming November, Warrior Songs will hold a creative arts retreat for women veterans who are survivors of military sexual trauma, or MST.
Warrior Songs has had impacts in multiple ways.
Participants find healing in an opportunity to speak their truth just once and continue to share it through the recordings. Listeners have found healing in recognizing they aren’t alone in their trauma.
On both sides, it strikes at the isolation that’s at the root of so many veteran suicides.
According to a 2016 report from the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans die each day from suicide. The rate is significantly higher for veterans than for those who haven’t served. Among women, the rate of suicide for veterans and active-duty personnel is 28.7 people per 100,000 compared to 5.2 per 100,000 among those who haven’t served. Among men, the rate 32.1 veterans and active-duty personnel per 100,000 compared to 20.9 people per 100,000 who haven’t served.
The project has also had impacts on families, friends and civilians in general.
They have gotten greater understanding from the songs and a deeper compassion that comes with it.
The impacts show in the organization’s testimonials.
“For many years, I was afraid to tell anyone about my problems as I thought they would not understand me and see me differently,” a veteran wrote. “Thanks to Jason’s music. I was able to re-enter treatment and get the help I needed for so long for my PTSD.”
The songs address emotions that are difficult to express. They address topics that are difficult to hear.
“Arts provide a natural bridge,” Moon said.
‘Everything had changed’
Moon long had dreams of a music career; of touring the country with his guitar in hand.
He didn’t picture that dream coming to bear in the manner it did.
He didn’t envision playing recovery centers and veteran’s hospitals. But he also didn’t expect to save lives with that guitar. He’s heard from more than 30 people who credit the project in saving their lives.
Moon, now of Arizona, spent years performing and hosting open mics in Oshkosh and the Fox Valley before war shifted his life’s direction. The Sept. 12 event at O’Marro’s Public House will harken back to those days.
He served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
“I came home very different suffering from PTSD,” he said. “I was feeling very distant from all my peers. I tried to get back into the music business, but leaving the house, just being around people and loud noises and crowds — everything had changed.”
Moon attempted suicide in 2008. He emerged from hospitalization with a new resolve to heal.
He was interviewed in 2009 for the documentary film, “On the Bridge,” and was asked to write an original song for the credits roll.
He began to finish songs that he started, but previously couldn’t complete.
Music was contributing to a change.
“Once I could take this pain and put it into song, it stopped being so gigantic and overwhelming and beyond my control,” he said. “Even if I couldn’t stop the symptoms or the pain, I could do something about it.”
Warrior Songs is rooted in Moon’s 2010 album, “Trying to Find My Way Home.”
Moon recorded the album detailing his journey with PTSD and wasn’t sure whether anyone would listen. He did it for himself, though soon enough, “I had all these letters and comments from veterans that said, ‘I feel the same thing.’”
And so he played — anywhere and everywhere. He traveled 250,000 miles from 2010 to 2013.
The bigger project began to sprout after a Navy veteran, who was raped while serving, expressed that she could find healing if someone could help her put her trauma into song.
It led Moon to ask, “what if?”
He aligned his attitude with his Army engineer training.
“I can figure it out,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ll just take a step forward and I’ll see what happens. Shit that goes wrong; I’ll fix it. Shit that goes right; I’ll repeat it.”
Telling the truth
Warrior Songs is a process of empowerment.
Each of its two releases thus far took years to complete.
Stories emerge through workshops and submissions. Through the program, veterans are paired with songwriters. The veterans have the control and if they don’t feel it’s their truth being told, they can cease the process anywhere along the line. When a draft is done, the veteran can ask for tweaks.
Once a song is approved, musicians are brought together to record the piece professionally.
The collections have earned accolades.
In April, “Women at War: Warrior Songs Vol. 2,” won Album of the Year at the 2019 Wisconsin Area Music Awards show.
The songs are powerful. The narratives are often horrifying, speaking the experiences of women who survived MST in no uncertain terms.
Songs speak of disrespect; of being overlooked.
The opening piece, “Sacrifice Ignored,” shares the exasperation of a veteran who received thanks for her husband’s service from a well-meaning man who saw a military sticker on her vehicle … and just assumed.
Work continues on the third volume of music, which will share the testimonies of Vietnam veterans.
“The Last Thing We Ever Do: Warrior Songs, Volume 3” is slated for release in Nov. 2021.
The recordings are given to veterans free of charge. They’re available to non-veterans for a donation. To date, more than 28,000 copies of their recordings have been distributed.
Each song is crafted with utmost care.
The project’s impacts arrive only due to its firm dedication to the truth. The songs reflect reality and its only there that healing can take place.
“We never want to be in a position where we change or alter the truth,” Moon said.
— Valley Review Publisher Jim Collar contributed to this report