Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
“Since my dad is in the Army, I think about being a soldier, too, and try to picture what it would look like to protect our country. I took some photos from the perspective of what it might look like to be standing in battle.”
This is the introduction 13-year-old Ethan Herbek wrote to accompany his photos in the “To Be At War: A Community Project About Military Life” exhibit at the Leavenworth Landing Park.
The exhibit, which opened with a small ceremony April 22 and will be on display through June 4, features the photos of 23 soldiers and the work of 17 military spouses and seven military youth.
“The whole point of the project was to bridge the civil-military divide through first-person story-telling,” said military spouse Arin Yoon, project facilitator. “I feel like the media covers a lot of the military community issues through the soldier’s experiences, but this project is really through the spouses’ and children’s perspective of what it’s like to be part of this community.
“The soldiers (in the photos by the railroad tracks) are the parents and spouses of workshop participants. The soldiers represent this idea of protecting the border because this is the Kansas-Missouri border,” she said. “The spaces between the families and the soldiers represent the constant family separation, and the changing of the seasons in the background of the soldiers represents the time of a typical deployment, which is nine months to a year.”
Yoon said she first started documenting the life of the military family when she became a military spouse in 2013, but sponsorships from We, Women; the National Military Family Association; the Leavenworth Conventions and Visitors Bureau; and Young Sign Company allowed her to expand it to include other military members.
“When I became a military spouse, I realized how little I knew about the military and how unique the culture was, so I started taking photos to engage with my community and to document it. It’s been a personal project for me,” Yoon said. “Last year, when I got funding from We, Women (and other sponsors), I turned it into a community engagement project with photography workshops for military spouses and children to teach them the fundamentals of photography but also provide a space to talk about what this military life is all about.”
Following approval from the Leavenworth city commissioners and the Garrison command team in January 2020, Yoon put on three photography workshops in the spring, summer and fall of 2020 via Zoom. Now the results are displayed in a public park along the Missouri River for anyone to view.
“It’s so rewarding,” Yoon said. “I’m so excited because when you have a vision of something in your head and it’s actually happening, it’s super cool.”
During the opening ceremony, Leavenworth Mayor Nancy Bauder said cultural, social and economic values are gained through public art.
“Public art is a distinguished part of our public history and the evolving culture,” Bauder said.
Several of the pieces include QR codes containing audio and video from the artist, so they can further tell their story.
“Each family member has their own story, and it’s OK to ask them what their story is,” Yoon said. “It’s a good time to reflect on the service of the service members but also the sacrifices the families have put in to helping support the defense of the country behind the scenes.”
Spouse workshop participant Terri Lichlyter, wife of Maj. Dan Lichlyter, Combined Arms Center-Training, said she enjoyed the workshops.
“I’ve always loved photography, and I have this camera that I’ve always tried to use, but then I just won’t; I won’t remember the skills that I learned shooting in manual, but … I wanted to learn more,” Lichlyter said. “Every picture doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re not looking for one perfect shot, and what you think is a perfect shot is not somebody else’s perfect shot.
“Our military lives are so much more than the deployment pictures that people see,” she said. “Our military life is us moving our families every few years and readjusting, and I’m excited for people to get to see a different picture of military life.”
Lichlyter has a triptych of black-and-white images featured in the exhibit.
Maj. Nolan Lasiter, Army University planner, is one of the soldiers featured in the exhibit.
His children, 12-year-old Kylena and 14-year-old Ethan, were two of the youth participants.
“This last summer with the pandemic and all the challenges that we’re facing, one of the driving factors for (my wife, Cindy and I) was to get our kids active into the community, … so once we saw the youth photography option was available, we jumped on it,” Lasiter said. “I think it’s really important for military families to be as engaged as possible in the community they’re part of … and I think trying to give back to the community is really important.
“The service to the community is an important aspect (of military service), but so is the sacrifice and the duty that military families put in to serve our country,” he said. “The driving factor for every service member is really love of their families and love of their communities and love of each other. …That’s really what it’s about at the end of the day.”
“To Be At War” also received a grant from the National Geographic Society to continue the exhibit as an online component for other military families to share their stories.
For more information, e-mail Yoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.