BETHESDA, Md., --
Isolation and avoidance were the behaviors Marine Staff Sgt. Anthony Mannino used to cope with adjusting to life when he came back from deployment in Iraq.
Mannino deployed for eight months total to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
“Things are not the same as they used to be,” Mannino, National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center patient, said. “I’m slower and it’s harder for me to focus. Sifting through all the noise is difficult. Sometimes all I can smell is death, burnt skin and blood.”
His post-traumatic stress enveloped his life and held him captive in a mental prison.
“The walls [I built] between me and everyone else kept me safe, but also forced me to change who I am,” Mannino said. “They became my life.”
The trauma Mannino experienced during his deployment resulted from concussions from roadside bomb explosions in Iraq and being hit by a truck while stationed in Hawaii.
Six months after receiving treatment at WRNMMC, Mannino began music and art therapy with NICoE.
Rebecca Vaudreuil, NICoE music therapist contractor, explained that the music therapy program is part of a four-week intensive outpatient program where active-duty military members participate in extensive treatment including diagnostic testing, rehabilitation and clinical work in approximately 26 different disciplines and over 100 appointments.
Manninno said he was initially resistant to treatment when he began the program almost a year ago because he disliked art and music, but he got tired of nothing working and kept trying.
“I started with guitar,” said Mannino. “It made me focus on something else even though I was at the hospital getting treatment.”
With continued practice, Mannino improved his guitar playing and performed Dec. 13 at the NICoE Creative Arts Café, a performance platform for patients and staff to share creativity through music, art, writing, dance, photography and drama once a month in front of an audience.
“The NCAC began as a collaboration between the U.S. Air Force Band and the NICoE Music Therapy program November 2015 and the inaugural event was Oct. 11, 2016,” said Vaudreuil.
For this NCAC event, U.S. Air Force Band Max Impact performed alongside several of the patients performances.
Mannino performed a spoken word piece describing his journey through the NICoE treatment program and his thoughts during each phase while Max Impact played “Walls” by Kings of Leon in the background.
“This was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in the Air Force,” said Nalani Quintell, Max Impact vocalist. “I wish we had more opportunities to give back to heroes like this. After all, it’s not about us, it’s about what we bring to the fight, which is with the soft power of music.”
Mannino, along with fellow patients, found music and art to be a way to communicate his frustration about the physical and mental pain he was experiencing.
Mannino’s wife, Diane, recounted that when he initially began therapy he didn’t believe anything was wrong with him because he didn’t have any physical injuries but after going through therapy, he is able to process and talk about things differently.
Mannino continued with music and art therapy after the end of the four-week program to work on his continued recovery.
“I’m not there anymore, even though some days I feel like I am,” Mannino said. “When the walls come down and things get hairy, I’m overcome with emotions, both good and bad; but I’ve been in treatment long enough to know that feelings mean I’m alive.”