At retreats, past participants join the team as peer support to welcome new SW:S participants to their first retreat and after, into our community. These peers let them know that they were once there as a first-time participant as well and they understand.

Going back is an opportunity for the peer mentors to share so many of their strengths. Many shine with hope and kindness. One example is A.J. Merrfield who freely shares his strengths of perspective and teamwork.

A.J. participated in the second SW:S retreat in the spring of 2013. At that retreat, he was able to sit down with Gary Nicholson to turn his story about serving on funeral detail into a healing song that not only changed A.J., but also continues to be shared regularly for those going through similar duties.

After that first retreat, he quickly came back as peer support and he has served at multiple retreats since then. A.J. shared, “Before I got involved with SongwritingWith:Soldiers, I think like a lot of veterans, there was a lot of stuff that I really hadn’t found a way to deal with. There were a lot of things that I personally thought I was the only one who was feeling. And what I found in working with SongwritingWith:Soldiers and being a participant and then later on as a mentor, I found that these were things that I wasn’t the only one feeling.”

“The interesting thing is, coming back into the SongwritingWith:Soldiers program as a mentor in some ways actually helped me to grow even more than my initial participation did. Because like they say ‘one of the best ways to learn something is to find a way to teach it.’ I think one of the best ways to learn how to process and deal with the things we’ve been through and to communicate the things we’ve been through is to help others to communicate and really kind of engage with those things as well. It was an amazing growth opportunity for me, and to see that growth and that change in others, was a life-changing experience.”

Through the role of peer support we provide past participants with the beauty of watching other veterans find and expand their strengths, while also giving them the opportunity to take another valuable step in their own ongoing journey.

A.J. Merrifield with co-founder Mary Judd, Belton TX, April 2013. Photo: Stacy Pearsall

Funeral Detail

A.J. Merrifield / Gary Nicholson

I’m the one who hands the flag to the family
One last reminder of everything they’ve lost
We all pledge allegiance to
The red, white, and blue
And honor the ones that paid the cost

I can’t let a tear reveal
The sadness that I feel
I just say the words I know are not enough
We just hear the taps play
Salute and walk away
And they’re gone without the one they love

I’m the one who hands the flag to the family
A symbol of the sacrifice they’ve seen
I take away the hope they’ve held on to
That maybe it’s all a bad dream
Some bring it home and place it on the mantle
Some just want to hide it away
I just hide how I feel and make that same speech
Knowing there’s nothing I can say

I’m the one that hands the flag to the family
Their eyes will haunt me always
I’m just a soldier on a funeral detail
With a speech and nothing I can say
I’m just a soldier on a funeral detail
With a speech and nothing I can say

© 2013 Sony/ATV Cross Keys Publishing/Gary Nicholson Music (ASCAP)

A.J. Merrifield writing with Jay Clementi and Gary Nicholson, TX, April 2013. Photo: Stacy Pearsall.