Guitars for Vets nonprofit offers music, therapy, companionship

guitar playing vet
Posted at 5:36 PM, Jul 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-05 06:13:09-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — On the outside of Operation Stand Down, little by little, stroke by stroke, something special is taking shape: a new mural honoring our veterans.

On the inside, the tools may be different, but the work is just as beautiful. A group of veterans pickin' and strummin' has formed their own unit thanks to the nonprofit, Guitars For Vets.

“It’s the same way when we were in the military, as a group — whether we were Special Forces or whether we were Air Force — you relied on one another,” explained U.S. Navy and Army veteran, Darrell Wells.

Trey Thomas is a graduate of the Guitars For Vets program and a regular at its jam sessions.

“I may not end up in a honky tonk or on a stage somewhere, but you know what? Being right here is one of the best things I could do for myself,” said Thomas.

Thomas served seven years in the Air Force with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While he has a lot of good memories and was proud to serve, his time at war left its mark.

“My depression and anxiety… and just the smallest thing would set me over. I just wasn't a very good person to be around,” Thomas said.

The VA suggested recreational therapy and Thomas, a musical novice, decided the Guitars For Vets program might be for him. It offers a loaner guitar and 10 one-hour lessons. Like so many others, not only did Thomas learn to play, something far more began to resonate deep within.

“Things like picking up a guitar that will help me forget about it… just focus on the vibrations of the music and just kind of relax,” said Thomas.

There is a science to it. Music can heal.

Guitars For Vets Chapter Coordinator and instructor Pat McGuire has seen it — struggling and persevering, emotionally and musically, look a lot alike.

“It’s difficult; you have moments where you're like, ‘this feels impossible,’ and at that moment it probably is. But you keep on doing it, and what happens is your body figures it out. Your nervous system figures it out,” explained McGuire.

For this guitar enthusiast, it really is a remarkable and emotional thing to witness.

“People struggle and they keep trying. Veterans keep trying. It’s inspiring,” McGuire said.

After veterans graduate from the Guitars For Vets program, they are given a guitar to keep and invited to the jam sessions. Guitars For Vets is always looking for donations of instruments, money and time. You can find out more at its website.