A view from the second floor of the courtyard at PPCC's Centennial campus.

Combat Paper Resonates

By Camille Liptak – Student Reporter

Catharsis. Respect. Art. Protest. For PPCC veterans and family members of the military, Combat Paper was all those things simultaneously.

Combat Paper, a paper-making workshop that repurposes the uniforms of veterans and active duty military, invited students, faculty, and community members to participate in a week-long observance of Veteran’s Day at PPCC.

Averaging around 100 students and community members a day, the workshop event, organized by the Expressive Arts Project, gave PPCC students and staff at Rampart Range and Centennial campuses the opportunity to make paper out of repurposed uniforms.

According to Nathan Lewis, one of the workshop’s facilitators, PPCC classes comprised the bulk of the participants. But there was a steady flow of students, faculty, and community members, including veterans and military family members.

After receiving a brief history of the paper-making process, participants took turns making a sheet of paper out of pulped uniforms. An estimated total of at least 800 pieces of paper were made from approximately 10 to 15 uniforms.

About 5 personal military uniforms were donated daily by veterans and family members. On the final day of the workshop, the spouse of a soldier who was killed in combat donated two of her husband’s Gold Star uniforms for repurposing.

Though tinged with may of these deeply personal exchanges, Combat Paper is largely a creative craft experience centered around storytelling.

“[We’re] trying to create a deliberate space for sharing those things that our society often doesn’t want to talk about,” Kevin Basl said.

Basl, a writer, poet, and veteran of the Iraq War, has traveled around the country with Combat Paper since 2012

“It’s always a little different,” Basl said. “You always meet someone who tells you a story you’ve never heard before that knocks you off your feet.”

While Combat Paper has political, artistic, and healing dimensions, the workshop is open to interpretation. Participants were encouraged to bring their own intention to the process, and also  encouraged to share their experiences with others.

“[With] our society being as divided as it is currently, we need more spaces where we can sit down at a table and share stories and have a civil conversation,” Basl said.

Students and staff sat at each table, with scissors and scraps of uniform in hand, listening, learning, and not looking at their phone or the clock. This active engagement is what makes Combat Paper a meditative and meaningful experience.

“At least half of everyone at [each] table has family in the military,” Lewis said. “On top of that, there’s usually 2 or 3 people at each table who are in the military or were, so this is the ideal place to be doing this project. It’s meaningful. Most people have something to add.” 

Lewis has high hopes for the workshop’s future. He wants to engage with participants more and hear their stories and experiences with the military. But before all that?

“We go home and sleep for three days straight,” Lewis joked. “Sleep and eat.”

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