Iraq veteran Ed Walsh ’02 continues to serve, reaching out to veterans through the arts at Lincoln Center.

Iraq veteran Ed Walsh ’02 continues to serve, reaching out to veterans through the arts at Lincoln Center.

by Meredith Guinness MA’16

fall2016_feature_image_1_bodyComing from a family of police officers, Ed Walsh ’02  always had a strong sense of the importance of service to others — and his years as a student at Fairfield served to strengthen that drive.

So it made sense when he signed up for the U.S. Marine’s Officer Candidate School, a 10-week program between his junior and senior years at Fairfield. The grueling experience led to the larger commitment of becoming a commissioned officer.

He finished the program about a month before September 11, 2001. “I thought, ‘I guess I know what I’m going to be doing for the next few years,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “I didn’t have it in my heart to say no.”

So the history and theater double major found himself looking for roadside bombs southeast of Fallujah, Iraq. On May 6, 2006, the Humvee he was riding in ran over one, wounding all aboard and killing the driver, Lance Corporal Leon B. Derraps of Jamestown, Mo.

Walsh suffered a traumatic brain injury and other wounds that left him with a slight limp, chronic pain and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“It’s one of those things, really,” the Melrose, Mass., native said. “I’m just lucky to be alive.”

Walsh continues to serve others in his current post as veteran and community relations manager at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

“There’s a major gap between the military veterans community and the civilian community and that gap is larger inside the artistic community,” Walsh said of his role at Lincoln Center. “There seems to  be a perception that people from the Armed Forces have no place in the performing arts, which is kind of crazy considering you have Lee Marvin, Harvey Keitel and Drew Carey, who were Marines. You have Bea Arthur, who was a Marine. All these people who had a profound impact on the arts…have fought wars.”

Walsh continued, “What we try to do here now [at Lincoln Center] is expose veterans and their families and active duty and their families to free, high-quality art and combine it with social engagement opportunities as well for veterans themselves.”

To that end, Lincoln Center offers veterans Mission Continues fellowships and scholarships to Summer Forum, a program that explores the process of imaginative learning and best practices in arts education and community arts.

On Christmas Day, Lincoln Center provided American Forces Network George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker for broadcast to an estimated 400,000 service members and their families on bases from Okinawa to Afghanistan. The event was broadcast to U.S. Navy ships outside the country’s waters.

Back in New York City, Walsh helped put together The Home Show, a 2015 Veterans Day week showcase of veteran-generated art with free performances at Lincoln Center’s David Rubinstein Atrium.

Walsh knows firsthand what art can mean for veterans. Back home in San Diego in 2006, after skirting death in that Humvee, he reflected on what he truly found important in life. It wasn’t long before he remembered the joy he found being part of Theatre Fairfield.

“I thought, why don’t I just start taking acting classes again,” he said.

By 2008, Walsh moved back to the east coast and earned a master’s degree at the American Repertory Theatre.

“I was 31. Probably not the best time in your life to start an acting career,” he said, laughing.

But timing is everything. Soon after his move home, he stumbled upon the fellowship at Lincoln Center and won the spot.

Walsh still acts here and there. In recent years, he was in an all-veteran cast of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, and played a CIA analyst briefing the President in Netflix’s House of Cards, among other roles.

But he’s decided to hold off on regional theater opportunities in favor of concentrating on the work he understands so well at Lincoln Center.
“The way I’ve approached it, and I think other veterans are like me, we see art as just another way to serve our country and culture,” he said. “I just see it as another form of service.” ●F

Fairfield and Veterans
Fairfield University has long celebrated the value of veterans, as the early classes at Fairfield were filled with young men coming out of the Armed Services.

Today, the University welcomes veterans and their spouses and dependents in both part- and full-time degree programs.

Fairfield accepts individuals eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, but in 2009 the University took its support one step further by becoming a Yellow Ribbon school. The initiative allows Fairfield to waive up to 50 percent of additional tuition costs with the remaining 50 percent to be matched by the Veterans Administration (VA).

This means there are no tuition costs at Fairfield for those veterans who qualify for both an undergraduate and graduate education.
The most recent records show about 40 Fairfield students taking advantage of post 9/11 G.I. Bill funds, with about 14 of those veterans, said Michael Flatto, assistant to the registrar.

“Many of the veterans are attending part-time, studying for graduate degrees, but a few are enrolled as traditional undergraduate students,” he said.

The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts will showcase the work of a core group of homeless veterans from ARBI/Homes for the Brave next spring. Using courageous storytelling as an entry point, the veterans will tell their stories in War Stories: A Veterans Project.
Performances will take place on Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1, 2017 at  8 p.m. Tickets are $20, $15 for Quick Center members. The event is free for veterans. ●F