Veterans pair with songwriters to create a full-length album about the military experience

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When military nonprofit LifeQuest Transitions wanted to raise awareness for the issues of moving from active duty to civilian life, it chose what founder CW Conner somewhat cheesily refers to as "the universal language": music. And it worked. The Colorado Springs group's second annual veteran songwriting camp has opened with the goal of completing a full-length album written entirely about the military experience.

Across a five-day creative period, the camp's ultimate goal is to explore the trials of military life in song in order to convince other veterans that common issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder are officially on the table for discussion. In the past two years, LifeQuest has aided in the transition of more than 1,400 veterans, but Conner says emotional and psychological issues are still tough subjects for them to approach and cope with. Through the songwriting camp, Conner hopes to discourage that stigma.

"What's extremely important for veterans, especially post 9-11, is for them to come forward and say, 'You know what, I need help this,'" Conner says. "We don't want them to hold it all in and nurture these wounds and these scars from battle. They'll talk to other veterans about their issues when they won't talk to other people period. Out hope is that by seeing these people come out, their likelihood of doing the same will continue."

Throughout the next five days, four professional songwriters will be paired with ten veterans selected for a wide array of backgrounds and military experience. Each veteran is tasked with creating a song about his or her story, though only six will make it to the final album. The six songs recorded after last year's camp are already available on iTunes through an EP called Faces of Freedom, and they will soon be added to this year's tracklist for a full-length album out in April.

To date, the group's most popular completed song is "Predator Road," which tells the story of a long and painful stretch of road one veteran traversed in Baghdad. Another, "God Challenged Me," deals with the shaken faith of a war photographer whose video partner died in her arms after a gunfight. The majority of the proceeds from the sale of the EP and forthcoming album will return to LifeQuest, which will use the money to fund both day-to-day operations and future songwriting camps. (Both the songwriters and veterans, all registered with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, will also receive a small cut.)

"It's important for us to create awareness while also contributing toward our resources to continue doing so," Conner says. LifeQuest's monthly operations budget is roughly $65,000. "Military nonprofits are starving these days, since the president has basically said the wars are ending. But our work is just getting started as a transitional organization is just starting."

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