Veteran uses art as healing tool

| Shari Lau

Where there is crisis, there is opportunity.

For University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student and U.S. Army veteran Phillip Schladweiler, being injured in combat while serving with the Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry unit, provided him with the opportunity to share his and other veterans' stories through his photography exhibit titled "The Shrapnel Project."

Schladweiler, an art (photography emphasis) and psychology major, was medically retired from the army in 2008 — two years after he was attacked by insurgents while providing cover for gun trucks in Ramadi, Iraq. His bunker was hit by a railcar rigged with a pressure plate and three artillery rounds. The force from the blast blew out the back of Schladweiler's right eye, resulting in total vision loss in that eye. He also had pieces of shrapnel removed from his right hand, left shoulder and right temple, which became the inspiration for "The Shrapnel Project."

"I was inspired during one of my photography classes in 2012 to think about the importance of the pieces of shrapnel and what they represent," Schladweiler, Eau Claire, said. "To me they represent change. They are what took me out of the fight and changed my course in life."

"The Shrapnel Project" exhibit consists of photographed pieces of shrapnel, including the ones removed from Schladweiler's own body, enlarged and printed on 24-by-36-inch canvases. Presenting each millimeter-sized piece in a large print was a deliberate decision, Schladweiler said.

"I enlarge the images to represent how something so small can have life-changing impacts," Schladweiler said.

Also included in the exhibit is a blank canvas titled "Wounds Unseen — PTSD; Size Unknown," inspired by Schladweiler's friend and fellow soldier who committed suicide.

"The blank piece in the exhibit represents the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, which also has lasting effects on soldiers and veterans," Schladweiler said. "PTSD is one of the big things taking soldiers out of the fight and veterans out of the community."

Each person who donates a piece of shrapnel to be photographed for the exhibit remains anonymous, Schladweiler said. The prints are titled only with the part of the body from which the shrapnel was removed, the shrapnel's weight in grams, and its height and width in millimeters

"The project isn't about one individual," Schladweiler said. "It's about soldiers and veterans as a whole. That's why one of the requirements for submitting the shrapnel is that its history and the people affected are known. I feel to include pieces that are from unknown origins is disrespectful to the history and individual that may have been affected."

Through "The Shrapnel Project," Schladweiler hopes to help open the doors to communication between civilians and veterans about the impact of war and PTSD.

"It's important to talk about our experiences, and most are reluctant because they're afraid of being judged," Schladweiler said. "Art is the best way to start a conversation because it takes away the politics. People first focus on the images and then start talking about experiences and the human aspect."

Pieces from the exhibit have been shown locally in Eau Claire, as well as across the country in places like Chicago, Los Angeles, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and New York City.

For more information about Schladweiler's exhibit, visit "The Shrapnel Project" website.

Sidebar:

Veterans at UW-Eau Claire

  • Currently 309 military veterans are enrolled at UW-Eau Claire.

  • The top five majors in which UW-Eau Claire student veterans are enrolled are business, nursing, criminal justice, kinesiology and political science.

  • UW-Eau Claire has consistently been recognized for its efforts to provide quality education and services to veteran students by U.S. News & World Report and Victory Media.

The following are examples of initiatives on behalf of veterans at UW-Eau Claire: