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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tempered Steel...Honoring the Wounds of War

The door opened and a waft of cool air released from the frame, expelling the San Antonio heat from my skin. A kind, bellowing voice welcomed me in, accompanied by a nervous growl from Duke, his bohemoth Mastiff raised with gentle hands but wearing the genetic twitch of an electrocuted rabbit. Bobby Henline's home is the haven of hope, possibilities, and through his wife's exquisite execution, a Martha Stewart homage to all that is still right in this world, in spite of what happened to him in Iraq, where he was severly injured in an IED explosion in 2007.

As I waited for the day's photo sessions of wounded warriors to begin, my eyes crawled the walls of pictures of his beautiful wife, Connie, and his three children. My eyes stopped on four frames lined up like soldiers saluting their leaders, each photo matted with a poem written by Robert, before and after his accident. His wife's photo held with the matting a poem he wrote the week prior to the explosion, from the front lines to his love. Each child's photo with their own personal expression of devotion and pride, each a private  dedication to their altered lives since their father changed.

Only Robert didn't change on the inside, he is still the same wise cracking jokester he was before, only now perhaps even bolder, with greater courage and fearlessness. When most patients are burned as severely as he is, with 38% of his body covered in debilitating scars, their spirits are often injured beyond repair. For Robert his injuries opened a door of unusual opportunities which have changed his perception of life's purpose and given him a new mission, a mission without weapons of iron, but the weapons of Tempered Steel.

Tempered Steel is an organization started by Iraq Star soldier Scott Stephenson and his mother Luana Schneider after he was seriously wounded and disfigured in Iraq in November 2006. Their mission is to break down the barriers between wounded and disfigured veterans and those who only see their scars. The goal is to exchange fear for enlightenment by exposing the very real human stories behind the wounds of war, and I am honored and humbled to have been asked to shoot their Tempered Steel Photo Introspective of wounded military veterans.

Scott and Luana contacted other severely wounded military members and asked for their participation and involvement in the portrait sessions, and the response was overwhelmingly, "YES".

The images will be accompanied by personal interview accounts culminated by Amanda Cherry-Haus. Amanda and her husband MSG James Haus were recently featured in an interview with Bob Woodruff for World News with Diane Sawyer addressing the alarming rate of veteran suicides.  As a military spouse of a soldier with severe PTSD, Amanda has educated herself on the issues gaining certification on PTSD treatment and causes.  She is currently starting her own charity called W.O.M.A.N.-Women of the Military Advocacy Network, to focus on the unique needs of military women and families while working with Tempered Steel.

We shot our first sessions in San Antonio at Robert Henline's home, with such an incredible response by those involved, that an additional day of sessions was added. Since then, the project is moving full steam ahead.We look forward to a traveling gallery exhibit to the cities of San Antonio, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., San Diego and Los Angeles with images also accompanying Tempered Steel's injured vets as they travel the country sensitizing our youth to the value of acceptance by speaking to Junior Highs and High Schools across the country.

Robert Henline, graced with the armor of humor, insight, wisdom, and irony, is now a professional comedian. He has embraced his new extreme makeover and travels from club to club with the most outrageous of comedy routines, never skipping a beat and reminding the public of the power of the human spirit and the beauty that lives within the most unexpected places.

Here are a few images which have been publicly released so far.


Preliminary Imagery of the Tempered Steel Photo Introspective to premiere 2011


Rick said...

Very, very powerful, Mic. Thanks so much for telling this story that so desperately needs to be told. God Bless you and God bless all of these brave men who stood (and stand) in the gap for the rest of us.

NewsBlaze said...

Wow, powerful story. Let me know when you need to get press releases or other stories out to a wider audience.

cstephenson said...

Beautiful photos....and I cannot wait to see more. My stepson looks particularly dashing if I may emote...Looking forward to seeing more of your and Amanda's wonderful work.

Luana said...

I have to say that I did something right in bringing such powerful women to the organization. From the photos to the stories to the beautiful web site. And all of the support. Everyone of you is contributing beyond mine and Scott's wildest expectations.
And what can I say about my wonderful babies.....and yes each is one of my babies! They have shared with Tempered Steel and us the vulnerability and humor and grace. THEY are the reason we created Tempered Steel. And I love everyone of them for stepping outside their personal comfort zones to become a part of us.
Please go to the website: to read more stories and to please get involved.

Louan said...

This project is so very help all of us see past the scars that are visible on some individuals and into the heart. I wish I knew all of these wonderful people, as their photos make me long to talk with them. Everyone of us has their scars...and the sooner we learn to embrace our own, as well as everyone else's, and to see the true individual inside, the sooner we will heal as a nation and as a world. Thank you for your work on this magnificent project.

Christina n Chuck said...

Our names are Christina Voakes and Charles Voakes, we were lucky enough to have served in the Army with Bobby, he is not only a hero, but the best friend anyone can ask for! Not to mention goofy as hell! Connie, his wife is a beautiful person, she is a wonderful mother, wife, and friend. She too is a warrior! This is an awesome organization! Keep up the good work.

Rick said...

Thank you for showing us that Beauty more than skin deep ! Thank you for your service, God bless you and your families and for your sacrifices for our freedom !

Anonymous said...

Micaela, After 20 years of friendship you know that it is indeed a rare occasion that I am left speechless - today I am without words meaningful enough to describe how deeply these brave men have touched my heart and inspired my soul.Thank you for speaking out to us with your remarkable visual essay.

Marla A.

Suzy said...

Such beautiful pictures, Mic. Such beautiful men.

BuenoBaby said...

I'm speechless and humbled. To say "Thank You" to these men (and women AND their families) seems trite and feeble. But I can't think of anything else. That and I'm so sorry.