After giving a dozen years of his life to the United States Army, Juan Polino found himself returning stateside with several tours of Iraq and a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo under his belt. After struggling with the idea of what he considered home and a string of new civilian jobs, he soon realized that while he had stepped out of the warzone a new enemy was beginning to make itself known. A short year later, the new fight would begin to come to a head with a full-blown assault.
“On October 1st, 2012 I tried to commit suicide,” Polino recalled. “Shortly after my failed attempt, a friend told me about a music group that was out there for veterans with veteran issues.” Having come to terms with the growing presence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) within his life, he began to look into the music group his friend had recommended, REDCON-1 Music Group. “I was inspired by what they were doing,” he said. “I would preach about the issues facing Warfighters (veterans) and show that suicide is not the way to go.” While he had previously dabbled in everything from sculpture and graffiti to writing and drama, he would end up with a Canon camera in his hands as his weapon of choice to dissect the issues that returning veterans deal with.
To get going behind the camera, Polino turned to Merced College’s photography program to enroll in Professor Jeff Gwartney’s Black and White Film Photography. “To be honest it was one of those ‘Eh let’s see where this goes,’” he said. As he began learning the ropes, Polino was quickly noted as someone whose inherent skill behind the camera stood out, and his ability to weave a story with sets of photographs was certainly noteworthy as well. “I fell in love with photography,” said Polino. “With writing I do the same as photography, I like to paint a picture with words. But in photography it's a picture, and a picture speaks a million words.”
With his natural tendency to tell stories through artistic works and a closely-held subject matter to work with, Polino set out to raise awareness about veteran suicide and the P.T.S.D. issues that returning veterans face. “My main objective is to bring light to the darkness of our veterans in Merced County,” he said. “I have helped with community outreach programs such as the RUN FOR THE FALLEN. This year will be their 4th or 5th year supporting veterans that have died in the Merced County area since 9/11.”
Currently, Polino is working with a clothing line that is dedicated to the veterans community, but is open to working with any organization or pursuing opportunities that come his way that are related to his cause. Polino went on to note that while he has worked hard to draw attention to the various issues that await returning soldiers, he feels that there is still much more to accomplish and will continue to work to that end, both for his own benefit and his fellow Warfighters who find they are facing the same battle.