Combat Hippies are saving lives one performance at a time

Julia LeDoux
October 21, 2019 - 4:33 pm
Combat Hppies

Photo courtesy of Combat Hippies

Hipolito Arriaga came back to the United States a changed man following his return from Iraq a decade ago.  

“I saw some traumatic stuff out there,” he said. “I saw some stuff and came back home, unsure of my identity and who I was.”

Now, he’s part of a group of Puerto Rican vets known as the Combat Hippies who take to the stage to cope with PTS and start the healing process. The group's name is a nod to the 1960s political activism of hippies, who were vocal about the nation's involvement in Vietnam. 

The son of a Marine Corps veteran, Arriaga joined the Army shortly after graduating high school. He served multiple tours in Iraq between 2007 to 2010.

“I wanted to gain some knowledge of myself and become a man,” he said of his decision to join the service.

He said his PTS symptoms manifested themselves shortly after he returned from Iraq.

“I wasn't talking, I was isolating," he said. "I just couldn’t sit home on the couch and disconnect from the world.”

Arriaga attended a creative writing workshop led by Teo Castellanos that eventually led to the formation of Combat Hippies and the group’s inaugural theater piece “Conscience Under Fire.”

Combat Hippies
Photo courtesy of Combat Hippies

Arriaga said that Combat Hippies focuses on works about warfighters as people of color, and shares experiences of veterans as they adjust to life after war as well as that of civilians from war-torn countries.

In addition to performing, Arriaga said writing plays for the group helps him deal with his emotions.

“It gets me so I’m not so attached to my emotions at the time,” he said. “It allows me to take my time and really think about what I’m trying to express.”

The group recently premiered its new production, “AMAL" which combines the spoken word, live and recorded music. The Combat Hippies are on a national tour and have performed in places like Miami, Denver, Chicago, and Milwaukee.

"I'm doing this not to perform,” Arriaga said. “I’m doing this to save my own life.”

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