Electric Forces Provides a Unique Way for Veterans to Heal

Electric Forest 2018 First Weekend
Photo Credit: Electric Forest

Each year, Electric Forest brings together military veterans from all branches to heal through their Electric Forces program. 

Little did I know when I left for Rothbury, Michigan in the middle of June that my life would change forever. My journey for Electric Forces begins when I first met my good friend Ina during EDC Orlando 2017. As we were getting to know each other, Ina told me about a military veteran build program called Electric Forces.

This build program helps with the load-in process of setting up Electric Forest as well as Load Out/Tear Down. Learning about this program peaked my interest because I didn’t necessarily have the best time at my first Electric Forest in 2016. I had fun, but it wasn’t the best it could have been. I always vowed I would return to this festival and give it another chance – I just didn’t know when.

After EDC Orlando, I continued to do research about Electric Forces. I found out that this build program was originally founded by a group of military veterans who felt that Electric Forest was an amazing place to help vets heal. In 2015, a correspondent with Thump interviewed some of the veterans and created a video showcasing only part of the program. Watching this one video solidified my interest in the program and I contacted Ina to see who I had to talk to in order to become part of this program.

EF 18 Sherwood Forest
Photo Credit: Electric Forest

Once things got underway with contacting who I needed to in order to become part of this program, things were smooth sailing from that point on. When I had been confirmed in the program and signed my contract with my specific dates, I was just waiting for the time to arrive in which I would make my journey up North.

As I waited patiently for June to come, Electric Forest started granting wishes for its inaugural year of the Wish Machine. The very first wish was actually aimed to restructure Electric Forces and included a second part dealing with the therapy aspect of the program. This wish was granted to Angela, who was a military veteran, and who worked closely with the VA and was a Michigan native. Unbeknownst to me, Angela and I would become intertwined with each other and the Electric Forces program! This was my experience…

My home for the next month would be in a small secluded area of the Back 40 surrounded by six teepees, four cabins, and a bathroom building.

Once we arrived, a group of about 15 veterans and a local crew was sitting around the fire relaxing after a hard day setting up the Forest. Almost every branch of the military was present including Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force. Little did I realize that the people I was about to meet were going to become my Forest Family.

EF 18 Electric Forces Back 40
My home for the next month
Photo Credit: Kelly Kellenberger

Introductions were quick since we still needed to set up our tents and get situated. The Build Crew A group had stapled six white sheets to the side of our bathrooms so that we could hook up a projector and watch movies. On that night they were watching Thor: Ragnarok. One thing I was definitely happy about was that we were provided with a building with showers and real toilets. This was a big improvement to when I first experienced the Forest from the GA side.

The first day of work was nerve-wracking. This was my initial day of work and was the day that I began to meet everyone, both my superiors and coworkers. It was here that I discovered that Electric Forces is a part of Site Operations and local labor.

EF 18 Site Ops
Where every morning started, at the Red House
Photo Credit: Ayron Austin

From this point, it is quite the same, day in and day out, for two weeks.

In helping set up the Forest, Electric Forces helped put down the flooring in pretty much all of the forest. Electric Forces along with some of the local crew laid all of The Hangar floorings. The mulch, scrim, and landscaping were done by us and local labor as well. For those that don’t know, scrim is the green tarp you see zip-tied to the fences. There were 15 miles of that tarp that we put up. Even though the work was full of mundane tasks, it was therapeutic at the same time. Being able to say I helped set up the Forest was quite amazing!

The build crew was strenuous, I’m not gonna lie. It was really hard work.

We would be outside in the heat, helping set up the forest and counting down the days till gates open. Plus, this is where I really got to know everyone on the crew and build those relationships with everyone. The 24 service members I got to know over the two-week timespan between June 11 and June 21 are the most amazing people. Some of these service members work from festival to festival because the normal nine to five isn’t for them. The hustle and bustle of festival life is oddly similar to that of the military and that’s all they know. The festival life provides a sense of community.

EF 18 Electric Forces
Photo Credit: Kelly Kellenberger

I ended up always being paired with my new friend Amanda. She has had the opportunity to see this program evolve over the last few years.

She participated in the program during its inaugural year and keeps returning year in and year out. She is a pretty amazing woman! My favorite memory of ours was where we both thought we almost ran over a turtle with her Work Horse (a two-passenger golf cart with a flatbed in the back), so she slammed on the breaks. I got out to investigate and it turned out to be the bottom of a flipflop! We even painted one of the tennis courts and we both left our mark.

It was also through Amanda that I was able to meet Angela, the first wish granted by the Wish Machine.

Amanda had to talk to her in regards to the therapy session and I went along so that I could meet Angela face to face. When I first met her, I told her about the article I wrote about her granted wish. Angela became ecstatic that I wrote an article about her, but was upset that she didn’t know about it. We continued to talk and got to know each other a little more through lunch. Being able to talk to her and tell her how much I appreciate her and what she’s doing for the Electric Forces program was wonderful. Through this one event, Angela and I became entwined with this program for the long haul.

Angela, Shiloh and I
Angela, Shiloh and I

As we got closer to gates opening on June 21, our hours were getting longer and the tasks getting harder.

The night before gates opened was the most strenuous. We needed to install modular lock fencing, eight feet high at the very front of the Ranch Arena stage. Modular Lock fencing is very heavy and needs two people to lift it. We accomplished it, but we also had all reached our breaking points by that time.

Everyone was short with everyone. One person was yelling at another person. However, at the end of it all, it wound up becoming a bonding experience because even though we were not happy with one another, we got through it as a team. Just like when we were in the military, we got through “the suck” together as a whole, once again it was the presence of a community.

Once they gave us the release from build crew, we were all ready to see the benefits of what we helped build.

Seeing the Forest with different eyes. Watching guests enjoy what I helped build. Seeing the happy faces enjoying the forest. Witnessing things I built getting used and being enjoyed by the masses. It was therapeutic in its own way. No words can literally describe the joy I felt.

During the festival, I met so many amazing people. I ended up finding our crew at GRiZ on weekend one. I ended up finding Kyle, who was quite distinguishable in a crowd with his costume and followed him to the rest of our crew. Now mind you, I don’t normally deal with going into the thick of the crowd. However, I fought through my anxiety and joined the rest of the group. There I enjoyed the set because I was present with my Forest Family with not a care in the world, and it was glorious!

Even more amazing memories happened during Weekend Two.

That weekend, I was able to see Grant and meet some of my EDM Identity family. I helped him and his friend Nadya complete the scavenger hunt at the Time Travel Agency so that he could receive his pineapple time badge in order to gain access to the three different secret rooms that the Hanger had to offer.

EF 2018 Scavenger Pin

One of my more interesting memories was of the passing thunderstorm on Saturday night.

One of my favorite artist’s record labels took over Tripolee, Mau5trap. I pretty much camped out at this stage the entire day. As Lane 8 is performing, a huge storm is passing Electric Forest. Mother Nature is sure putting on a beautiful show in the distance with lightning painting the night sky. Flashbacks of EDC Orlando 2015 started to cascade through my mind. Mother Nature has a funny way of showcasing her presence. She wanted to show up to the party too and turn up, all while giving us her private light show.

I also did some soul searching during the second weekend.

The Electric Forces team were doing talking panels at The Brainery and driving around in a golf cart talking to other vets who randomly approached them. I ended up attending the final panel on Sunday of Weekend Two. The panel of veterans and some of us watching from the sides answered all of the questions asked. For one of the questions, I ended up going up to give my answer.

EF 18 Brainery
Photo Credit: Electric Forest

At this time I was at my most vulnerable because I started to cry halfway through my answer. I began to see the people I spoke to over the last month become my family.

They were just like me, a military veteran who had been out trying to make ends meet. These 24 veterans are truly my Forest Family. I’ve connected with all of them to the point that I want to come back every year to help with this program.

Weekend Two also showcased what I can do to help the program, and that is to help with media. It was during this weekend that I was able to talk about my short time in Electric Forces. I was part of two interviews and I must say it was very different being the interviewee instead of the interviewer.

As the weekend progressed, I talked with some of the leads for the Electric Forces and learned that each of us has something to contribute to the program; be it media experience, videography/photography, leadership skills, medical, graphic design and numerous other things. Each of us has our strong point that we bring to the table. I can’t wait to see what unfolds for next year.

EF 18 Electric Forces Interview
Photo after our interview with WKTV
Photo Credit: WKTV/K.D. Norris

After the Sunday of weekend two had passed, loadout began.

During this time we had to take down the Forest. For me, my task was folding up the 15 miles of scrim that we took down off of the fences. Doing this for five days straight in the blistering heat with no shade really made me have a newfound respect for those who do this at other festivals. I will never look at scrim the same way again. Haha. I received one heck of a tan though.

All in all, hands down this was the best decision I could have made for myself. I saw Electric Forest with new eyes and helped make something so beautiful. I also took away a whole new set of friends and my #forestfam. I went into this program nervous because it was a new experience. Often we are too scared to jump into the unknown. However, sometimes we just have to take that leap of faith and jump.

With this program, the Forest has truly healed me in more ways than one. I came away from this experience changed forever. I can truly say that Electric Forest is now one festival I will return to as a member of Electric Forces year in and year out. It provided the one thing missing in my life: a sense of community!

Electric Forces Family
My newfound Electric Forces Family
Photo Credit: Mikey Fort

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After serving in the military for eight years and attending Florida International University in Miami, I attended my first EDM concert in 2012. The DJ I saw was Kaskade and I fell in love with the scene immediately. Since joining the EDM community in 2012, I have been to several different music festivals which include: Ultra Miami, EDC Las Vegas, EDC Orlando, TomorrowWorld, Mysteryland, Electric Forest and many others. I have also been to several shows but prefer music festivals overall. Some of my favorite DJs include: Deadmau5, Kaskade, Rabbit in the Moon, and many others. EDM has always had a place in my heart and it actually came into my life when I really needed it, you could say it saved my life.