Next month, it will have been 15 years since the United States went to war in Afghanistan and then later, into Iraq. It’s estimated 2.5 million men and women have served during that time and each has a story to tell.
Helping those service members and veterans shape and share their story is why Tampa brothers Matt and Mark Fetterman started the non-profit organization, The Homefront Foundation.
“While I was pursuing my degree at Columbia University, I was exposed to storytelling as a business tool,” Matt Fetterman said, who earned an master's degree in organizational psychology.
That’s when he said he learned the power of storytelling, not only for business but for veterans and service members can use it as a coping tool and an opportunity to bond with their communities.
Matt Fetterman shares his story as an example. It begins on the parade deck the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.
“When I was a freshman or a plebe at the Academy, I remember raising my right hand. I took my oath on Saturday. I swore into the Navy,” Matt Fetterman said. And three days later, on a Tuesday, he and his section of plebes were marching to class, stopped and watched across the water as terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
During his last 15 years of service, he only had three days when the U.S. has not been at war.
“It’s a long time and it’s very trying,” Matt Fetterman said. “I think that we are all tired.”
Matt Fetterman volunteered in 2010 to serve in Afghanistan as did his twin brother, Mark Fetterman, also an engineer and graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy.
“Before we had gone to Afghanistan, a good friend of mine and Matt’s who went to college with us, he was shot and killed in Afghanistan,” Mark Fetterman said. “Shortly after we found ourselves in country, another one of our friends was dead. This time he had stepped on a land mine. And knowing this is part of my story makes me believe that other veterans have stories to tell and in their stories there are lessons.”
Mark Fetterman said the lesson he learned from his story, “You’re not alone.”
“When you transition back home away from the battlefield you feel alone,” Mark Fetterman said. “I know when I got home, I was not transitioned back with a unit, and I found myself living in a hotel room for three weeks by myself, drinking too much, making some bad decisions.”
But Mark Fetterman said his brother came knocking on his door to make certain he knew he was not alone. Also, storytelling helped.
“I was a skeptic. Didn’t think storytelling had anything to do with me as a person,” Mark Fetterman said. “But it had so much and when I finally learned how to tell my story and felt comfortable and get past that vulnerable stage, I found it was relieving.”
The Fetterman brothers hope to bring that same relief to others and at the same time create a bond with the community. Last fall, they both moved to Tampa to be closer to family and start The Homefront Foundation, a non-profit set up to help teach service members, veterans and first responders storytelling as a tool for coping and outreach.
Unwritten Letters is their first workshop in Tampa. Matt says veterans from all service branches and some first responders have signed up.
“This is not a theatrical performance. This is a story,” Matt Fetterman said.
After the daylong workshop, there’s a community event for the public to share in the stories on August 27, 2016 at 6 p.m. at the University of South Florida Tampa Campus, Theater 2, 4202 E. Fowler Ave.
Mark Fetterman said they hope that people with no links to the military will attend, as will family and friends of active-duty members and veterans.
“I think what they’re going to see, when they start to hear these stories come out, is the value in these individuals and the value they can bring back to their communities again,” Mark Fetterman said.