A visit to Walter Reed Hospital changed the lives of Rick Allen, rock drummer for Def Leppard, and his wife, Lauren Monroe, in 2006.
They had already begun the Malibu, Calif.,-based nonprofit Raven Drum Foundation in 2001 to help heal people through drumming. But after meeting with the veterans, Allen, who lost his arm in a 1984 accident, felt a profound connection that led to a partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project in 2009, and his emphasis shifted to veterans, some of whom are amputees.
"So many servicemen are coming back, and so many are suffering that we really need to focus our attention there now," Monroe said.
Allen's journey in overcoming adversity and Monroe's background in healing arts and massage therapy made for a natural fit.
"The understanding Rick has for life after trauma and the compassion he brings to working with the young warriors is incredible," said John Roberts, executive vice president of mental health and family services at the Wounded Warrior Project.
People may see him as a rock star, but, Allen says: "Suffering levels out the playing field. Sometimes you have to experience rock bottom to feel grateful for what you've been given."
Monroe said drumming can help relieve post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Drumming relieves many different conditions," she said. "You can lower your blood pressure, your heart rate, breathing, and it can diminish stress in a subtle way."
Throughout the year, they host drum circles with small groups of Wounded Warriors backstage at Def Leppard concerts and across the country. They hope to institute weeklong retreats soon. Twice a year, Raven Drum hosts a larger community drum circle open to the public.
At one recent event, about 100 participants selected hand drums. In the circle, there were three segments with accompanying rhythms, first played by Allen and his drum team, including Monroe. The first section, narrated by Monroe, was to "visualize ancestors." Allen led the rhythms that guests followed.
The second segment was about "release." Participants called out negative feelings, such as sadness, hatred, anger and pain, and Allen led more rhythms, which participants followed.
The third segment was about "receiving," which was meant to put emotions such as friendship, happiness, love and peace into the space left by the negative feelings.
Mike Green is with Wounded Warriors and lost an arm in Iraq in 2005.
"You get out here and get a drum and get that group cohesion and bond with people and have a good time," Green said.
Norbie Lara of Visalia, Calif., also from Wounded Warriors, lost an arm in 2004 in Iraq. "I had been to another drum circle with Raven Drum before and really enjoyed it," Lara said. "It gave me a really good sense of lifted spirit, and I wanted to experience it again."
For more information on Raven Drum, visit www.ravendrumfoundation.org.