David Lauderdale

The art of war: Hilton Head gives two US Army couples peace in a most unexpected way

U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Bass clowning with Mettea Green at the Art Cafe on Hilton Head Island as two couples were hosted by Operation R&R following deployments to Korea.
U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Bass clowning with Mettea Green at the Art Cafe on Hilton Head Island as two couples were hosted by Operation R&R following deployments to Korea. Submitted

What does a dog bowl have to do with war and peace?

In the case of two couples who recently visited Hilton Head Island, a lot.

War is the elephant in the room of their crowded lives. Both husbands serve in the U.S. Army. Both wives deal with the fallout, at home and abroad.

In 12 years of service, Sgt. Christopher Bass has been deployed to Iraq three times, and to Kuwait and Korea.

In Korea, Bass and Specialist 1st Class Jeremy Green became battle buddies. While Facetiming home to their wives, they passed the phones to each other and that’s how Rebecca Bass met Mettea Green. Now they are like family. The Greens are younger, and when they have children, they want Christopher and Rebecca to be the godparents.

Earlier this month, they came to Hilton Head together for five days of respite through Operation R&R.

“Operation R&R is a national, nonprofit organization,” its website says, “dedicated to helping military families of service men and women and ‘Families of the Fallen’ Gold Star spouses and parents to reconnect and reintegrate, deal with the problems of reintegration and in easing post-deployment stress.”

Volunteers and donors set up the military families with free lodging and free or discounted experiences all over the island.

And that’s where the dog bowl comes into the picture, very much by surprise.

As these two Army couples talked the night before they left to go back into life’s war zone, they realized it wasn’t the rhythmic and mysterious ocean that worked its magic for them.

It was art.

It was a dog bowl, created at The Art Cafe pottery painting studio.

“It was stressful for me to even go in there,” Mettea Green said. “I can barely draw a stick figure. I don’t think outside the box.”

Beyond that, she and Rebecca were stressing about how their husbands would react.

Mettea was sure Jeremy would do nothing but work his phone.

Rebecca knows that things war has imprinted on her husband’s mind mean that he never relaxes. At restaurants, he always sits facing the door. He looks over his shoulders.

But then her voice began to crack.

“Being able to sit and paint really relaxed him,” Rebecca said. “It’s the calmest I’ve seen him in a really, really long time. He was not thinking about the Army or his trials and tribulations. He was able to let it all go. I can’t even put it into words.”

Mettea said Jeremy and Christopher are usually bouncing off the walls, feeding off each others jokes.

But Christopher sat down and focused solely on painting a plate with the New England Patriots logo.

Jeremy focused solely on painting a dog bowl with the blue and silver colors of the Dallas Cowboys.

“It was almost surreal to me and Becca,” Mettea said.

Rebecca’s kitchen is decorated with a chef motif, so she painted a plate that says, “Never trust a skinny chef.”

Mettea collects coffee mugs, and is a big fan of “The Office” television show. She painted a coffee mug to reflect her marriage. “You’re the Jim to my Pam,” it says.

Soon the Greens will be moving to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The Bass family — with four children —will be at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

They say a tight relationship is rare in Army life.

“It’s hard to let yourself connect to people because you know you’ll soon be moved,” Mettea said.

They’ll soldier on.

But that’s how, from Korea to Hilton Head, a dog bowl came to represent peace, at last.

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.