BRIDGEWATER, NJ – In 2007, veteran Drew Cameron decided to cut his uniform off his body and make it into paper.
And from that, the Combat Paper Project was born.
The Bridgewater Township Library hosted the project Friday as part of the Adult Library Program. The Combat Paper Project is an organization created by veterans to help veterans share their experiences of war through a unique process of cutting up their uniforms and making them into paper.
By 2011, the organization had moved to the Printmaking Center of New Jersey, where it began holding workshops for veterans to meet and share their experiences while creating and decorating the paper made from their uniforms. Many veterans find it as a source of therapy to portray their feelings of war and their experiences after returning home from service, especially those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
The Combat Paper Project uses three phases in its papermaking process. The first step is called Deconstruction, where veterans physically deconstruct their past as they cut up their uniforms together and share their wartime experiences.
Combat Paper Project presenter, and Army veteran, James Yee said at the library that this first phase lets veterans connect with their past experiences or present-day challenges.
“Deconstruction is a time when veterans can talk freely about anything they want while in a safe environment where no one is judging them,” he said.
The next phase, Reclaim, is when the uniform pieces are turned into paper. The cut-up uniform pieces are combined with water, beaten down with papermaking equipment to make pulp and put through a pressboard, hydraulic press, before finally being put in a “dry box” for 48 hours until the material is completely dry.
Communicate is the third and final phase, when veterans make art out of their paper. There is a wide variety of artwork that appears on the paper - veterans can choose to put any image they want on it, from quotes to iconic images to their own experiences.
For example, one veteran depicted an image from a reoccurring dream he had after he was serviced in Iraq that showed an Iraqi boy named Rasul asking to come with the soldier to get out of the warfare in his country.
After the artwork is created, it is put on display in an exhibition on the last day of the program’s workshop. Yee said he finds this part of the workshop to be equally beneficial to the veterans and to the public.
“The exhibitions allow veterans to tell the public the meaning behind their art,” he said. “It helps to bridge the gap between veterans and non-veterans.”
Mun Hwa, Adult Services Contact for the library, said she found the program and its message to be very important in connecting veterans and non-veterans in the community.
“We need the Combat Paper Program to help explain to the public, and not just other veterans, the experiences that soldiers have gone through,” she said.
As for the future of the Combat Paper Program, Yee said he believes there is huge potential for growth of the organization.
“We are building a supportive community of veterans, as the best people to help veterans are veterans themselves,” he said.
To learn more about the program or to send donations, visit www.combatpaper.org.
The program will be held again at the Hillsborough Township Public Library, on South Branch Road, Aug. 12.