U.S. Army veteran Dave Mundee strums through the scales on a guitar as part of a two-hour weekly class at the local VA, picking out chords he needs to play Bob Dylan tune, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”
He’s not in a band, or getting ready for a recital. The 53-year-old is simply seeking a way to bring some harmony into a life that has seen its share of chaos. He finds learning the instrument he was first exposed to as a preschooler to be a pleasant escape from the stresses that abound in the world today.
“It’s like a daily meditation,” Mundee said.
Mundee is one of five veterans now participating in the Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System’s chapter of “Guitars for Vets,” a four-year-old, all-volunteer program for both in-patient and out-patient veterans that aims to teach veterans how to play the guitar as a means of infusing music into their lives. A team of four offer instruction and guidance to the classes that are kept to between three and five men or women at a time so as to be able to provide one-on-one instruction and encouragement to the mostly novice adults. Each veteran who completes one of the two, 10-week courses offered each year is given a guitar and case as their send-off gift. To date, some 18 veterans have graduated from the program.
“Guitars for Vets” is a national effort to “put the healing power of music into the hands of heroes,” said local chapter founder and volunteer Tom Martin whose son, Chris, is an Army sergeant who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. He is now serving at Camp Navajo, an Arizona Army National Guard post in Bellemont.
Martin said he was building a guitar when he stumbled on an advertisement for the national organization. A lifelong guitar player, Martin felt compelled to bring the program to local veterans. The VA Recreation Therapist Cory Sanders endorsed the idea and veteran volunteers and others stepped up to offer instruction as well as donate guitars, music stands and other such essentials.
“Music can be satisfying in a way nothing else can,” Martin said, noting the instructors work one-on-one with these veteran students so that in just a few weeks and with only a few fingers they can play songs from their era, including the ever popular folk tunes of Bob Dylan.
As for why he wanted to get involved, Martin said, “It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation for what they’ve done.”
As a fellow veteran, Osborn said he delights in helping other veterans find a way to bring themselves enjoyment, particularly those who may be wrestling with military-related injuries or post-traumatic stress. One of his students, a fellow Marine who served in Afghanistan, asked him to teach him how to play “Happy Birthday” so he could sing it over the phone to his wife for her birthday.
Osborn complied. The Marine and the wife were both delighted; he suggested that gesture may have “saved our marriage.”
“Music is life,” Osborn said.
U.S. Army veteran Darryl Norberto, 47, a 90-day domiciliary patient, said he opted to take the course because he wanted to learn a new hobby, one that will aid him in his road to sobriety
The classes are held in the domiciliary recreation area, but are not limited to those clients. Out-patient veterans are also welcome to enroll in the free classes.
“It’s a challenge for me,” Norberto said as he wrestled with finger placement and striking the right notes as the weekly class got underway with volunteer instructor Steve Osborn, a 13-year, Marine teaching the group.
A second volunteer instructor, Bill Klamper, worked individually with some of the students.
From childhood, Norberto said he always wanted to play, but either he didn’t have the money the time or the inclination to make it happen. In recovery, Norberto said he is now determined to learn.
“I’m trying to start a good habit,” Norberto said.
Even when Norberto said he gets lost, or is confused by a new fingering pattern, he refuses to let frustration to win. He just tries again.
“All of this is helping with my healing,” Norberto declared. “I’m not giving up.”
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.