UI veterans turn uniforms into art


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William Klima clutched a tan, gritty sheet of paper bearing the Army green image of an angel perched above a soldier.

"This is my release," Klima said.

At the University of Iowa Center for the Book research and production facility on Sunday afternoon, the former Army medic spoke fondly about the piece, though he said it stirs memories of the people he couldn't save in Iraq.

"I second-guessed myself about whether or not I was able to save as many as I could," he said. "But this helps me vent some of those insecurities about the ones I couldn't."

Klima created the piece in April, cutting up his old desert camouflage uniform, when the international organization the Campus Paper Project came to the UI. After experiencing the process of recycling old uniforms into art and other sculptures, he felt it was something UI veterans should take part in.

Through this idea, Klima and Cate Hartmann, a student veterans counselor for the UI Veterans Center, started Operation Wrecklamation at the UI. They hope to make it permanent project in the future.

"They're able to take something very close to them and turn it into a piece of artwork," Hartmann said.

Klima said he wasn't concerned about cutting up his old desert camouflage uniform.

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"My uniform I hated, I'll tell you the truth," he said. "We sat in the desert and baked in them, so the first time we went around and cut them up, I was surprised … it didn't stink of sweat. I was sure there was some locked in the fabric."

Some veterans were concerned about cutting up military uniforms, Hartmann said. But those used in the project were owned by the soldiers and did not include any badges or U.S. flags.

Chase Weiland — who graduated from the UI in May — has made three sheets of paper with plans to make more. The Army veteran said seeing the paper take form was his biggest thrill.

"For me, it was more about the idea and significance of where the paper comes from," he said. "That it's derived from something that is indicative of military service."

Giving veterans the opportunity to keep the memories of their service — good or bad — is the point behind Operation Wrecklamation, Hartmann said.

Amy Johnson, a UI graduate student and nine-year veteran of the Army Reserve, said her artwork will serve as a creative Christmas gifts. One of her pieces included a red and blue dove in flight, but said she plans to incorporate her badges and Army tags on larger, framed posters.

"This is sort of a thanks to [my family] for putting up with it for so long," Johnson said.

UI graduate student Scott Smith didn't really know what he would end up with on Nov. 4, when he and Johnson cut up Army battle-dress uniforms into 1-inch squares at the UI Veterans Center.

But the Marine Corps veteran created a quilt-like pattern on the still damp sheet of gray paper Nov. 6 with those very squares.

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