WELCOME HOME Iraq, Afghanistan vets

ASHLAND — If you are an Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran, Bill McMillan would like to hear from you.

He and his wife, Kim Shelton, are co-directors of the Welcome Home Project aimed at helping traumatized veterans and their families.

"What we are doing is apolitical," he stressed. "We are not trying to push anything for or against the wars. This is to help the veterans."

The event includes a five-day retreat beginning May 22 at the Buckhorn Springs lodge and cabins a few miles east of Ashland with a public ceremony welcoming the veterans home at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland on Memorial Day evening.

Because retreat space is limited to 30 participants, including family members, preregistration is required. There is no cost to the veterans or their families.

"We want to include the whole valley, not just Ashland," McMillan said, noting the event shouldn't be construed as "liberal" because it is based in a community many associate with liberal causes.

"We want to connect with all people — conservative or liberal — around one concern: the well-being of the veterans coming home," said McMillan, a marriage and family psychotherapist who has worked with veterans. Shelton is an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

They decided to do the event, which Shelton plans to document on film, to help other veterans and their families after growing frustrated with a lack of direct knowledge and connection with how to help returning veterans.

"We conceived this program in order to become more involved and to offer a way for the larger civilian community to actively participate in the return of our soldiers," he said.

During the retreat, the focus will be on creating a community of veterans in a venue that encourages expression and healing with storytelling, art, writing, meditation and movement, according to McMillan.

The Memorial Day event will feature poetry, theater, art and speeches by veterans, including some who participated in the retreat.

When contacted, folks at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival immediately offered the Angus Bowmer for the public event, he said. Professionals who have worked with traumatized individuals also eagerly stepped forward to lend their expertise, he added.

"It fit together really well," he said.

Vietnam-era veteran Michael Meade and Peggy Rubin of Ashland, both scholars of mythology, storytelling and theater who have worked with traumatized individuals, including veterans, will serve as facilitators at the retreat. The Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, founded by Meade, is co-sponsoring the project.

Others helping the veterans and their families include Michael J. Maxwell, a veteran and therapist for veterans; Pat Chandler, a longtime veterans counselor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Carl Robinson, a Vietnam War veteran and Native American who has counseled veterans for years; and Lauren McLagen, a member of the readjustment and transition team at the Salem Vet Center.

Although priority will be given to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, all veterans are welcome, said McMillan, who participates in Returning Veterans Northwest, a group of professionals who counsel veterans for free. About half the slots in the retreat have already been filled, he said.

No children will be permitted at the retreat.

Tickets to the public welcoming home ceremony at 6 p.m. May 26 will be free to all veterans, $15 for non-veterans. The tickets will be available in mid-April at Paddington Station in Ashland and at Grocery Outlet in Medford.

"One challenge in this project is getting veterans to participate because of the public part," he said. "But the other challenge is getting the public involved in a more personal way with the veterans, to be willing to share some of their burdens. They have to be willing to come and really listen to the veterans."

To register, volunteer to help or make a tax-deductible donation for the event, call at McMillan at 482-1072 or Shelton at 482-7090. Additional information is available at the project's Web site at www.thewelcomehomeproject.org.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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