NEA Arts Magazine

Operation Homecoming: Fort Drum

Writing Workshop Series begins in New York

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Ricahrd Bausch at a podium speaking to a group of soldiers sitting at tables

Richard Bausch discusses the art of writing with soldiers at Fort Drum, New York. Photo: Betty Doherty, US Army MWR

"How many of you want to write fiction?"

A few tentative hands went up—all of them clad in the olive green uniforms of the 10th Mountain Division. These students were also soldiers at Fort Drum, New York.

The question was posed by Richard Bausch, noted author, and member of the faculty of the Arts Endowment's Operation Homecoming. In early June, Bausch was joined at Ft. Drum by author and journalist McKay Jenkins and, together, they led the NEA’s first writing workshops for military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of the soldiers in the Ft. Drum workshops were fresh from a long tour in Afghanistan.

Operation Homecoming will include writing workshops at military bases conducted by nationally known authors of all genres, to encourage returning troops and their families to write about their wartime experiences. The NEA plans to take the best of that writing and publish an anthology that will be available to the public.

"If there's a way that we experienced writers can offer them some of the techniques that we’ve learned over the years, maybe this will allow them to gain access to some of these stories and transform them from memory into something that is actually on the page," said Jenkins, who added that he thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue with these soldiers.

Jenkins was given an especially warm welcome at Ft. Drum. His book, The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division and the Assault on Hitler’s Europe, has special resonance on the base.

"The real news from the front is going to come from the people who are living it, from the individuals. So, a program like this is going to encourage that," said Bausch, who is himself a Vietnam veteran, as well as the author of such books as The Last Good Time and The Stories of Richard Bausch.

Nearly 50 soldiers and family members took part in the workshops themselves, and several others took time with the authors in more informal settings such as the "windshield" tour of the base.

Submissions for the anthology have been arriving at the NEA since Operation Homecoming was announced in April. The enthusiasm from that announcement has led the Department of Defense to request that the program be expanded to include more bases.

Operation Homecoming is made possible through the generous support of The Boeing Company.