American History Theater now has its' first fall season on the books! This rapidly growing and trending 501(c)(3) non-profit organization had an especially successful season with great feedback from the community and a renewed drive to plunge headfirst into 2016. AHT looks to raise awareness around any and all veterans’ issues with a specific focus on female veterans, but in truth, they have a two-fold mission that allows them many avenues of advocacy and attention. Not only does AHT seek to raise awareness around female veterans’ issues through educational workshops, conferences and special events, but they are also adamant about celebrating the role of American women in the military through these types of events, but more specifically through theater production. AHT’s unique approach to community give-back and outreach sets them apart from the crowd and has gained them a name in San Diego in just a short period of time.
“We know we have something special,” said Amber Robinson, AHT Vice President and Communications Director. “The way we combine educational group events with theater gives us so many different ways to hail our American military women and educate the community.”
Robinson is especially excited about the upcoming year, when AHT will collaborate with local San Diego attorney, Nicole Heffel, and begin to put together short theater productions which will illustrate and spotlight female veteran incarceration. Heffel, founder of the “She’s Worth It” program, advocates for her girls by making sure they are given Veterans Assistance support, psychological support and professional readiness support.
“We choose to think of their time while behind bars as a time to reset their lives and prepare them for a new start when they get out,” said Heffel.
AHT’s military-affiliated events propelled the organization into the community limelight. Aside from their first major theatrical production, entitled “Waiting for McArthur”, AHT hosted two major military and veteran-affiliated events.
AHT’s season kicked off with their Woman’s Wounded Warrior Weekend, which went from Sept. 25th-27th. Organization Chairperson, Meaghan Cox, was instrumental in making this possible, working with the Balboa Wounded Warrior Battalion to find the perfect recipient for a weekend of recognition, relaxation and fun. AHT was honored to welcome wounded warrior Marine Lance Corporal Hannah Souder into the AHT family. Souder was wounded while on duty serving overseas in Japan. Souder was accompanied by her husband, Marine veteran Ryan Souder. AHT’s female wounded warrior was treated to a sunset cruise across the San Diego harbor, a special-tailored spa day, a show at the Old Globe and lastly, on Sunday, Sept. 27th, Souder and the organization were recognized during the Padres home game at Petco Park, where she was also given the distinct honor of kicking off the game by ringing the Padres mission bell. AHT was especially honored to work with the Padres, and hopes to work with them again in the coming year.
In conjunction with the organization’s theatrical production of “Waiting for McArthur”, AHT hosted its first educational and interactive women’s conference at California State University San Marcos on Oct. 31st , entitled “Women’s Advocacy: Understanding the Scars of Military Sexual Trauma”. According to the most recent Pentagon report, in 2014 alone, there were 5,061 reports of sexual assault in the military. Out of those reports, only 484 were pushed to trial and only 376 of those trials led to convictions. Many feel that so few cases move to trial due to the fact that military commands are in control of handling the reports, instead of them being handled immediately by JAG. These facts along with many others are what make MST such an important, urgent and controversial subject.
The desired goal of the conference was to provide a forum for MST victims, advocates, veterans and community members to learn more about MST and to provide a talk space for conference attendees to speak their mind, ask questions and network. AHT was proud to host three phenomenal speakers, Sarah L. Blum, decorated Vietnam veteran and author of the book “Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military”, Dr. Carol Patterson, who has worked with MST victims for over 10 years and started the MST program on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Nicole Heffel, local attorney, veteran rights and MST advocate and MST victim.
Each presentation was loaded with information, insight and sometimes, emotion. MST is a difficult subject to broach in any forum, given its controversial and sometimes graphic nature. Blum, a practicing nurse psychotherapist with over 28 years of experience working with PTSD and trauma resolution, provided therapy services for the duration of the conference for audience members who were emotionally triggered by the material being presented. Attendees were encouraged to ask questions after each speaker, although not much encouragement was necessary as women veterans, local advocates and MST victims rose to not only ask questions, but share their insights, share their information and most importantly, share their stories.
The reviews from those who attended were glowing, with attendees traveling even as far as Utah to be a part of the event. American History Theater will continue to create talk spaces for serious issues like MST in the future, with a continued dedication to San Diego’s veteran community.