Marine Corps Corporal Joe Pawlowski deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006. While supporting what is now known as the “Third Battle of Fallujah,” Pawlowski and his team were ambushed by sniper fire, an attack that only he survived. ​

While recovering from the many surgeries needed to salvage his dominant arm and repair a broken scapula, Pawlowski reconnected with his lost passion for art while learning how to use his arm again. After nearly 6 months in the hospital, Pawlowski returned home to Michigan to his life before war. Having difficulties transitioning and still experiencing pain, he continued to turn to art as a form of physical and mental therapy. During the late-night art sessions, he found his life purpose in carrying on his fallen friends’ legacies by supporting fellow combat veterans and helping them tell their stories and heal through art and, later, tattooing. ​

After training as a tattoo artist, he began tattooing his fellow veterans during sessions they called “Pain Therapy,” where they would talk for hours during the tattoo session about the physical and emotional pain during combat and after. Like the final product of the tattoo, they often didn’t realize the beauty of those conversations until having a chance to sit back and reflect. ​

Encouraged by another veteran to dapple with painting, this became his new late-night coping hobby with his PTSD symptoms and flared pain. He began painting custom pieces like parts on motorcycles for combat veterans who found peace while riding their motorcycles. Yet, Pawlowski shared that the most honorable piece he’s ever created was painting his dear friend’s casket, who he fought with in Iraq and passed away upon his return home from a brain injury. ​

Realizing the positive impact art had on himself and his fellow brothers in arms, he applied to our Warrior’s Wish program for an art studio, a safe space where he could carry out his passion. HOPE granted his wish. Today, Pawlowski now has his very own art studio on his property where he continues to connect with and serve other veterans through art.