State 05: Rhode Island

Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A. | August 24-25, 2017

VETERAN: Josh Chiarini
BRANCH: U.S. Navy

ARTIST: Jay Biethan
ARTIST: Rashelle Palmer

VIDEOGRAPHER: Scott Beer, Animus Studios
PHOTOGRAPHER: Tyler Way
PORTRAITS: Sean McNulty

WORKSPACE: The Design Office
PARTNERS: AIGA Rhode Island, Alpha Industries

STATE SPONSOR: Available

TAKE FLIGHT

U.S. Navy Corpsman Veteran and Silver Star recipient Josh Chiarini and designers Rashelle Palmer and Jay Biethan collaborated to create the design “Take Flight,” an illustrative expression of Josh’s advice for fellow Veterans to never quit, no matter the battles they may face. Having experienced a loss of direction that many other Veterans feel when transitioning to civilian-life, Josh eventually found his new sense of purpose through teaching first-responder classes, pulling from the lessons he learned while serving, including to be present and “Stay in the Fight.” A self-described “adrenaline junkie,” his recently discovered passion for flying provides an outlet for him to live life to the fullest. His sense of adventure is one way he is able honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice through living his life the way they would have wanted to live.

Using the radar aviation symbol as a grid, Josh’s encouraging message to “Stay in the Fight / Take Flight” is emitted as a simple reminder that many have sacrificed so that others can live their best lives. The plane in the center represents the joy and peace Josh has found in flying, adorned with the spiral, a subtle nod to the intertwined snakes in the caduceus insignia, a reference to his position as a Navy Corpsman.

In collaboration with Alpha Industries, the designs from the 50 States: Veterans + Artists United tour are produced into a limited number of fifty t-shirts and embroidered patches. Click the product images below to purchase Josh, Jay, and Rachelle’s collaborative “Take Flight” design exclusively on AlphaIndustries.com.

SHIRT: $30.00

Size Shown: Large (Unisex)

PATCH: $17.00

Patch Width: 4.0in

DECAL: $5.00

3.0in x 3.0in

 BEHIND-THE-PROCESS: 

[Written by: Kendra Clapp Olguín | Photos by: Tyler Way]

We were referred to Navy Corpsman Veteran Josh Chiarini while camping in Cape Cod a few days after our Massachusetts state project up in Boston.

Conveniently located near the campground facilities, campers passed our Airstream adorned with [HAS HEART] decals (and some birthday streamers) every time nature called.

One man approached us while we were eating outside on the picnic table, inquiring more about the organization and what we do. As we explained our mission and tour, he excitedly stated that his son’s friend in Providence, Rhode Island, was a Silver Star recipient and had a tremendous story.

With the help of TV shows and movies, we can all attempt to imagine what combat is like. In Josh’s case, we couldn’t begin to conceive what an experience of a combat medic for the Marines would be like.

Yet, Josh is frank and describes that while in the moment, the realities of war don’t quite register but no matter how difficult, you focus and stay in the fight.

It’s been about ten years since leaving his position as a medic to his Marines, but the lessons of his experiences have proven to be valuable not only to himself but to many. Josh has continued a life of service as a firefighter, utilizing his savvy and quick decision-making in emergencies to help others. Additionally, he trains first-responders and law enforcement skills that they can use in crises.

When he agreed to be partnered with two graphic designers for the Rhode Island project of the 50 States: Veterans + Artists United tour, Josh would soon learn how his story presented visually could reach and help even more people.

On a hot summer day in August, Josh walked into The Design Office with a grin on his face. In a strong Rhode Island accent, he introduced himself.

Graphic designers and co-presidents of the AIGA Rhode Island chapter, Rashelle Palmer and Jay Biethan warmly greeted him. After walking down to the Arcade Providence and grabbing some coffees at New Harvest Coffee & Spirits, the three sat in the sunlit arcade and Josh began sharing his experience serving.

Over the course of the two design days, Jay and Rashelle would hear some horror stories of combat and war and be amazed by Josh’s resolve in moments of chaos. Even though he’d endured incredibly gruesome experiences, Josh was able to move past the numbness and loss of purpose he felt after the military and instead, focus on living his life to the fullest. One particularly way he does that is through his love of flying. Not only has it provided him a way to self-reflect and feel free, becoming a pilot has given him a renewed sense of purpose as he comes to one day use flying to help fellow Veterans that may be struggling.

Reminded that good cannot exist without bad and with happiness comes sadness, Rashelle and Jay set out to illustrate Josh’s passion for survival and life. With their design reminding others to “stay in the fight, take flight,” they did just that.

Born and raised in Rhode Island, Josh was involved with the military from a young age. While in the Air Force ROTC in high school, a medical screening that falsely determined he had asthma led him to a limited selection of jobs.

The Navy approached him as they have the best medicine and with additional testing, they ruled out asthma. Although he didn’t know much of the position, Josh joined as a Navy Corpsman that required him to go through extensive medical training.

The training was rigorous but he credits his “faith to stick with it” for getting him through. As the Marine Corps does not have a corpsman department, meaning they do not have a specific Marine medic position, Navy Corpsman are their medics.

From his medical training, he was sent to the school of infantry as all Marines have to be trained in combat and medics in trauma medicine.

Toward the end of his time there, 9/11 occurred and changed everything. With waves of enlistees joining the military that he describes as the “New York Recruitments,” class sizes grew from 250 to 400 people.

“Everyone in my class went to Afghanistan and I got left behind to teach,” Josh tells Jay and Rashelle. “But that’s the beauty of the United States and our patriotism.”

In 2002, Josh was asked if he wanted to go to Guantanamo Bay on a top-secret deployment. As the Marine Corps oversaw the prisoners from the War on Terror, Josh spent six months handling detainees and providing them medical care.

“A lot of these guys had injuries and we needed to care for them in order to get information out of them,” he describes to Jay and Rashelle.

“Many were 9/11 terrorists, those that had planned the attacks. They were intelligent individuals and it was mentally challenging for me to treat them. Sometimes they would attempt to get guards to turn on each other, you know, play games.”

However difficult of a circumstance he was placed in, Josh’s upbringing and good foundation reminded him of what he describes as “the basic human knowledge of taking care of people — the human side of war.”

After making their way back to The Design Office, Josh began to go into his deployments after GITMO.

In Iraq, the circumstances Josh found himself in were increasingly challenging during his next three deployments in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

One of the most defining moments of Josh’s military career happened on February 10, 2006 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

“The first vehicle in the convoy got hit by an explosive device. They knew how we were going to respond so when a few Marines got out of their vehicle to make sure everything was ok, the second device was detonated; everyone disappeared in a cloud of smoke,” he tells Rashelle and Jay.

A ways back in the third Humvee of the convoy, Josh jumped out of his vehicle without any hesitation and ran one hundred meters under enemy fire to tend to the four Marines and one interpreter that were injured from the attack.

One by one, Josh dragged them to safety while shielding them from incoming rounds, holding them up with one arm, and shooting suppressive fire with his rifle in the other. Back and forth three times, Josh cared for his injured Marines until they were out of harm’s way, then stayed and continued to fight once they had been evacuated.

“I was counting the rounds in the magazine, thinking how many I had left and thought to myself, ‘this is really it.’ But you don’t quit and fight to the end,” he says as he relives that day.

While Josh would go on to receive a Silver Star for his actions, the third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat, what matters the most to him were those he was fighting for.

“Half the patrol was wiped out, injured, but Marines being Marines,” he laughs, “even with their leg blown off they still stayed in the fight; I’ll never forget about that. One of the Marines later at night in the hospital told me, ‘Doc, when I saw you coming through the smoke, I knew it was going to be ok,’ and that to me is worth more than any medal. Having that responsibility was my drive, them relying on me.”

That powerful sense of purpose led Josh to complete his mission of caring and helping those injured to the best of his abilities and from his three deployments to Iraq, he did not lose a single Marine he treated.

There were, however, the Marines he did not get a chance to treat. His best friend Platoon Sergeant Patterson was one of them. At one point in a deployment, they had lost fourteen Marines in one month.

“Day after day losing friends, the mess it makes you as a person,” Josh describes. “The guy you were talking to the last 6 months is sitting there in pieces. What do you do? One guy said, ‘Gentlemen, shit happens. But the mission continues.’ So you pick up the pieces mentally and move on. The war goes on.” 

Through the highs and lows, Josh was determined to maintain his personal moral compass he attributes to the way he was raised.

“You’re talking about making decisions. What direction are you going to go? These are decisions you’re going to live with for the rest of your life,” he explains to Jay and Rashelle.

“An Iraqi prisoner once asked me, ‘Why don’t you kill me? If the roles were reversed, I would be cutting your head off.’ I responded that he was human, just like me. My mission was to help people. Whoever was injured, to protect them. The mission is priority.” 

Through his years in the military, Josh felt fulfilled by his purpose as a corpsman and grew accustomed to the rush of adrenaline. When he was eventually medically retired in 2008, everything seemed to come to a screeching halt.

“I felt straight numbness when I got out,” he describes. “I just did not care about anything. I lost my marbles a little.”

And of course, he did.

Without time for any emotional decompression or transition, Josh experienced shock as everything and everyone that had been motivating him for the last eight years was gone.

“Over there you’re worth so much; you’re relied on so much. At home, you’re just another citizen.”

Josh leaned upon his training and his unyielding determination to remain steadfast, to stay in the fight. As time went by, he realized that as a Veteran, you can find new purpose in your life.

“I’m still here for a reason,” he strongly states. Although no longer in the military and feeling the ache for his fallen Marines, Josh’s crisis and decision-making skills and experiences were still with him and had the potential to be put to good use.

“It’s painful to talk about loss of friends, but to use those stories of pain and suffering, those experiences and difficulties from over there as stories of hope, that’s a higher purpose, that’s a way to give back,” he conveys.

In retrospect, Josh is able to give advice to those who may be struggling, “When things get difficult, at low points in life, you really have to refocus. Think about everything that happened and be thankful. Be humbled by it.”

Through these realizations and refocusing, Josh began training first responders, police officers, firefighters, and various others in emergency, crisis, and survival skills. Driven by his dedication to service and desire to help others, Josh joined the North Providence Fire Department in 2012 where he became part of another brotherhood.

Not forgetting about his fallen brothers, Josh “gives thanks those guys all the time” and tries to live the life they would have wanted.

“Life is about opportunity and I’m trying to take every one.” A self-described adrenaline junkie, he travels the world as often as he can, he snowboards, has gone skydiving with his mother, drives an orange Corvette, rides four-wheelers, motorcycles, jet skis, boats, you name it.

“Death is not my fear of life, it’s not experiencing life,” he proudly states. His most cherished pastime is flying and was just hours away from getting his pilot’s license.

“My buddy got into flying and asked if I wanted to buy his plane. That started the whole process and I love it, “he describes. “It’s so freeing because flight is a place where you have peace of mind. It’s clear out there and you’re all alone and in your own space overlooking the clouds. When I’m up there I think, ‘Wow, this is amazing, to be alive and have this moment.’ A lot of the time I self-reflect. It’s a rush.”

Seeing the positive effects flying has had on his life, Josh’s new goal would be to find a way to show fellow Veterans the thrills and opportunities life can still have after service.

“Through flying, I want to be able to do something for Veterans at some point; dog rescues, rides, something with aircraft to have a greater reach and give back,” he envisions.

With post-its, notes, sketches, and writing scribbled all across the whiteboard, Rashelle and Jay were deeply moved by Josh’s stories, not just because he was placed in circumstances more than 99% of the population will never experience, but they were inspired by his drive and hunger for survival and living life to the fullest.

“A lot of your stories are so great but the fact that you can tell them is also truly special,” Rashelle shared with Josh.

“Even if you’re not in combat, you can learn from those lessons of remaining calm and stay the course. I think so much of what we [designers] try to do is find meaning in anything and put that out there in a clear, concise way. Hearing your story and what you went through, I can’t fully understand what that must have been like for you, but I’d like to communicate that for you.”

It was a moment of connection among individuals who may not have met each other otherwise and it was beautiful.

After spending some time working on design concepts together, Jay and Rashelle pinned their seven drafts up on the cork board. The pair shared with Josh their ideas that they hoped conveyed the message he wanted to share with others. Going through each one carefully, the three talked and deliberated. On the whiteboard, Rashelle would cross out the themes or messages that didn’t make the cut. As the day went by, there were only a few that stood. In particular, the fifth proposed draft had the theme of “Stay in the Fight” that resonated with Josh.

“It’s a motto I use in teaching and it’s also something Marines use,” he explains. In addition to the message of staying in the fight, a design element that Josh gravitated toward was the airplane motif Jay and Rashelle included in a few of the proposed designs. Seeing as Josh wanted to have a call-to-action that gave hope to those struggling, specifically Veterans contemplating suicide, Jay saw an opportunity to combine different elements and themes into one.

“What I love about you finding this passion of flying is that it’s a place for you to self-reflect and feel free, to overlook the clouds,” Jay conveys. “You talk about your experiences like it’s almost as if you’re in the clouds of it all; that you have to dive right in, whatever the outcome is, you have to find focus and drive.”

Jay then notes that while flying can allude to Josh’s perseverance, “flight” is a nice metaphor for the way Josh enjoys life and sees it as a series of opportunities. “Stay in the fight, take flight,” he says, thinking out loud. Rashelle’s jaw drops and eyes meet his and everyone in the room could feel the palpable agreement between the two designers. “‘Fight or flight’ also goes back to the split-second decisions you had to make,” Jay continues.

They look at Josh to see his reaction. Of course, he’s grinning.

Rashelle elaborates even further, “Something that stood out to me was your experience coming home, teaching, and proving life here. There’s this silver lining at the end of all of your stories. [Stay in the Fight/Take Flight] can also be seen as, Veterans coming back overseas. ‘Taking flight’ is finding that new purpose. For you, that’s flying.”

“I like that,” Josh responds, smiling and nodding. “The sky is the limit!”

Support Josh and help share his message by purchasing the “Take Flight” products designed in collaboration with Jay and Rashelle:

SHIRT: $30.00

Size Shown: Large (Unisex)

PATCH: $17.00

Patch Width: 4.0in

DECAL: $5.00

3.0in x 3.0in

 OUR JOURNEY: RHODE ISLAND 

Written by: Kendra Clapp Olguin | Photos by: Tyler Way

Tyler and I have often noted how different this experience would be without Noel. When we shared the tour with our families, one of their responses was wondering what we were going to do with “the cat.”

Fortunate for us, she’s done wonderfully adapting to life on the road, better than we could’ve hoped for, actually

[READ MORE]