Photo credit: Josh Apel
By Diane Larson
Josh Apel spent 15 years in the Army with two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Like many other men and women, Josh came home with PTSD. But where Josh’s story differs is that he found solace in a centuries old craft, crochet.
Josh grew up in Moberly, Missouri. He worked construction for his dad’s company for several years. Like many young people, Josh began to get in a little trouble. A friend of his persuaded him to go see an army recruiter with her. He went and spoke with the recruiter, then signed up that day. “I was looking for a new life and a new start, and that was it for me,” explained Josh.
He spent fifteen months in Mosul, Iraq, then twelve months in Baghdad, Iraq. After those 2 tours he then went to Afghanistan for 9 months. He was in the Southern horn, the Panjshir district. “Afghanistan was a nightmare. That was the deployment that broke me. I was an infantryman, so we saw, we saw the worst of it,” said Josh. After those tours Josh became a platoon sergeant and did that until his body couldn’t do it any longer.
After his 15 years Josh came home with anxiety and PTSD. The journey to find help for him, to find something that would ease the anxiety, led him to crochet. So why crochet? “I had a lot of emotional baggage from the deployments and from the lifestyle and the military. I was looking for an outlet, something healthy to occupy my mind and help calm me down,” said Josh.
“Crochet has changed my life. It is meditative, and therapeutic. When you are working on a project you are completely focused on the project. Everything else is blocked out and it just really teaches you how to give your mind a break from life, the pandemic, from all of the PTSD,” explained Josh.
Josh noted that he had always been creaive. “I remember watching my grandma crochet. I had friends in the military that crocheted, and I thought I would try it out,” said Josh. He began by learning techniques from a friend and then went on YouTube and learned the rest.
Now several years later Josh is crocheting at expert level. But the most significant part of Josh’s story is that he could not keep this benefit to himself. He saw how this could help his fellow veterans. As Josh got deeper into crochet, learning new stitches, patterns, and techniques he realized the profound mental health benefits he was receiving from this new hobby.
The next step for Josh seemed instinctive. “My passion, my heart is with the military community. I have had too many friends commit suicide,” explained Josh. Providing any sort of relief or help to fellow veterans is critical to Josh’s mission. As he noticed the benefits, he was receiving from crochet he wanted to offer that same gift to other veterans or anyone in need.
His first fun step was on social media. With the help of his two children, Josh began to get the word out. Watching his kids use TikTok he felt this platform might be fun. “So, I thought I would be funny and post a video of just me crocheting and it took off,” said Josh. Combat Crochet (CC) was born.
In the beginning he taught via live stream. “I started working with veterans and helping them learn how to crochet and letting them try something new,” said Josh. The veterans that he taught started experiencing the same benefits. “With Combat Crochet I am trying to make the world a little bit better place,” Josh explained.
Josh’s Combat Crochet. His “mission is to teach others a healthy outlet, something they can use to help with PTSD and anxiety. It is something that has helped me many times over the years,” said Josh.
When he was young Josh thought he would be in the art or music field, especially the music. “I thought it would be music, I really did. I even tried making a YouTube channel and posted my music, but crochet. I don’t know, crochet just kind of balanced me out.” explained Josh.
Josh has videos on YouTube and Tik Tok; and he and CC can be found on Facebook as well.
A couple of Josh’s mottos that keep him going are, ‘Combat Crochet, ‘trading helmets for hooks,’ also, ‘a granny square a day, keeps the therapist away.’