Veterans, families, actors share servicemember stories thanks to Rhinelander native’s book

WJFW, Newswatch 12
By David Chrisinger
14 Nov 17

By Lane Kimble

Zach Farris said hello to his family and paced the lobby outside Nicolet College’s theater on Tuesday afternoon.

“I ended up arguing with myself for three weeks,” Farris said.

The student and Navy veteran were getting ready to go on stage and share his thoughts about his service, explaining how his understanding of “patriot” and the United States’ mission morphed in his mind during that time.  Farris was nervous.

“There’s a side that isn’t so pretty, sometimes… Putting things on paper has always helped me view things a little different,” Farris said.

Onstage, words on paper became opinions shared through Farris’s voice. His message was one of a handful from speakers during the production “See Me for Who I Am,” a collection of veterans’ essays that Rhinelander native David Chrisinger compiled.

See Me for Who I Am River News Article

Photo Credit: Kayla Breese/River News

“[I’ve worked on it for the] better part of seven years,” Chrisinger said.

Chrisinger started working on the project with childhood friend Brett Foley, who served in the Marine Corps. The author got the stories from veterans he taught at UW-Stevens Point. Chrisinger wants his book to help break down stereotypes civilians have about veterans and vice versa.

“That’s a really powerful experience for veterans when they realize that there are people who do care about their experiences,” Chrisinger said.

Veterans and family members shared experiences that included forming friendships with Jordanian soldiers while deployed overseas, a servicewoman accused of not seeing “real” combat, and the story of how training for and completing a 50-mile run saved a husband’s and wife’s relationship. Those stories and more flowed from paper to the audience’s ears.

“When people give you their time, that it’s worthwhile, that it’s impactful at least to somebody or that it does something or assists another in another way,” Farris said.

Some stories came from the voices of actors like Mikayla Goetz.

“My only job is to tell stories well, and you can’t do that without completely understanding the human,” Goetz said.

Goetz’s South Carolina-based theater company, Boots on the Ground, got ahold of Chrisinger’s book this year. She directly contacted the people she performs to make sure the message the veterans hoped for gets delivered accurately.

“We’re all ignorant about each other until we talk until we tell stories,” Goetz said. “So I just want to listen and to tell more stories about everyone that I can.

“The more that we sit in a room together and listen to someone else tell their story that has to, I believe deeply that that has to change the world.”

Goetz admits sharing those stories takes courage. But the more people like Zach Farris do, the more Chrisinger’s book turns from a collection of stories on paper to unified thoughts in minds.

“Once we figure out a way to tell those stories about the universal human experiences, that’s what really helps bridge the gap,” Chrisinger said.

Chrisinger’s next project builds on this one — helping post-9/11 veterans and their families share their stories.

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Actors, veterans share stories in 'See Me for Who I Am'