FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) — Thirteen years ago, Sgt. Ron Kelsey was a college student and an Army reservist doing an art internship in New York City when al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked two airplanes and flew them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Kelsey witnessed the chaos after the attack and was profoundly impacted. He decided to make the Army his career and has been on active duty for the past nine years.
The El Paso Times (http://bit.ly/Wzjmy6 ) reports since then, he has deployed twice — once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan — and has seen the trauma and dark side of war first-hand.
Kelsey, now 34, started "Reflections of Generosity," a traveling art exhibit, five years ago as a way to help his fellow soldiers, veterans and their families heal and deal with grief, loss, post-traumatic stress and the tough transition back to Garrison life after a deployment.
This week, Kelsey’s art exhibit will be displayed for two days at two locations on Fort Bliss. It’s his way to mark the 13th anniversary of the traumatic events of 9/11, and to bring attention to suicide prevention efforts.
"Reflections of Generosity" will be shown from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. MDT Wednesday at the Fort Bliss Commissary. Wednesday is World Suicide Prevention Day and September is Suicide Prevention Month. His exhibit will support the Fort Bliss suicide prevention program. In addition to the art exhibit, there will be a large tent and multiple booths set up at the commissary that day to draw attention to suicide prevention.
Thursday, on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the exhibit will be shown from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the lobby area of William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
"I always work on doing an event on 9/11 cause I was there," he said.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Kelsey, a native of Covington, Kentucky, was a student at Wabash College in Indianapolis and an intern with the International Arts Movement, which is headquartered in New York. In the days after 9/11, Kelsey helped the movement’s founder, Makoto Fujimura, rescue his artwork from his studio a couple of blocks from Ground Zero.
"I originally joined the Army (Reserve) to pay for college," Kelsey said. "After 9/11, that’s what got me to thinking, ‘Maybe, I should make a career out of the military.’ I needed to make a stronger purpose out of my life."
Kelsey said that he still has a "hard time responding appropriately" to what happened on 9/11.
"I have a project I’ve been working on in my private studio that deals with faces," he said. "One of the most traumatic experiences that I can’t get out of my mind were the people who were jumping out of the building."
He didn’t personally witness people jump from the World Trade Center, but saw it on television like millions of other people around the world. He is still deeply affected by that image.
Kelsey has been stationed at Fort Bliss for nearly two years now with his family. He is a human resources noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
When he was stationed at Fort Drum, New York, he deployed to Iraq in 2008 with the 10th Mountain Division and served as the division’s strength manager. He worked directly with the division’s casualty team. He had to report casualties and would sometimes see the photos of these soldiers.
It was a very traumatic experience and it led him to seek solace in his own artwork as a way of healing, he said. He soon created "Reflections of Generosity." It consists of about 80 works of art, including Kelsey’s original works, works by his artist friends from around the world, by other soldiers and from the El Paso community.
His exhibit had previously been shown at Fort Drum, at two Army installations in Germany and earlier this year at the Fort Bliss Trading Post. It is also scheduled to be shown at the Chamizal National Memorial next year and at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, also in 2015, he said.
He also deployed to Afghanistan from December 2012 to September 2013 with Fort Bliss’ 1st Stryker Brigade.
"What I like about art, it gives you a way to talk about issues that when you put words to it would be almost inappropriate or too overwhelming for anyone to receive," Kelsey said.
The exhibit is a way to help soldiers, veterans and their families heal, get them interested in the arts and bring both the military and civilian communities together, Kelsey said. He also wants other soldiers to get involved and use their talents to help even more soldiers and veterans.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jerod Palmer, the senior enlisted soldier with Kelsey’s battalion, said "arts are an excellent venue for soldiers to express their feelings in a safe, meaningful way."
Chaplain Col. Matthew Pawlikowski, now the senior installation chaplain at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, did a suicide prevention public service video with Kelsey in 2012 that was shown overseas.
Pawlikowski said that Kelsey uses art to reach people on a different level and get them to use their own talents to help others.
Kelsey finds other people with artistic talent and brings them together into what amounts to a "healing ministry," Pawlikowski said.
Kelsey has also been up front that he has wrestled with his own thoughts of suicide and uses himself as an example. He has used his art and his support network, including chaplains, behavioral health counseling and friends, to overcome those dark thoughts, he said.
Later this month, Kelsey has been invited to speak eight times at Fort Bliss as part of the Army Substance Abuse Program’s Suicide Prevention Training.
He is also planning to expand the scope of "Reflections of Generosity." It has already become an official Texas nonprofit and he is working on getting its federal status so people can make tax-deductible donations to it.
He is also working with Tumblewords and the Tom Lea Institute to create writing workshops specifically tailored to soldiers. The El Paso Museum of Art is working with "Reflections of Generosity" and will hold two art workshops for soldiers next year, Kelsey said.
Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com
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