David Ellard retired from the U.S. Marine Corps and later his 22-year-old son was deployed to Iraq. Ellard found MilSpeak as one way of dealing with both major changes in his life.
MilSpeak, a creative writing class, has been offered to retired and active-duty military members and their families twice a year since 2005. Founded by retired Marine Sally Drumm of Beaufort, it is a place where warriors, family and friends can write about their military experiences. Through the program, veterans find validation, compassion and understanding, Drumm said.
"Hundreds of people are being helped by stories we publish," Drumm said. "If there is somebody out there struggling who is just home from Afghanistan or Iraq, sometimes the only thing they need to go on for one more day is to read that somebody else made it through the same situation."
Ellard of Ridgeland served for 20 years as a Marine but never saw combat, and he's now the Marine Corps Community Services liaison to MilSpeak. For him, the program helped him deal with leaving the military and his son's deployment. He credits Drumm for encouraging the writers to seek out real stories.
"The earlier classes helped me deal with some personal adjustments as I transition through my military retirement into a civilian," Ellard said. "I also feel like writing in the MilSpeak classes helped me deal with my son's (deployment to Iraq)."
The free workshops, usually held on five Saturdays over two months, help members of the military community who would like to write concentrate on their memories of military stories from all eras -- from World War II to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. The next seminar is scheduled in the spring. Ellard said the class helps many people work through things and opens up a dialogue between family members.
"People who get a chance to read these stories are then encouraged to talk to their family members who are in the military," Ellard said.
"There are many military people who don't just tell you their military stories, and you learn so much more about them than just their military service."
The ultimate goal of MilSpeak is to encourage military members and veterans and to make public art through written stories and other types of expression, Ellard said. And Drumm said the program is growing.
There is a MilSpeak website -- www.milspeak.org -- and published books and electronic books.
"MilSpeak has gotten bigger than Beaufort," Drumm said. "(MilSpeak) has grown from a little creative writing program at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and now to a 501c3 nonprofit organization."