4TROOPS' concert debut draws standing ovation aboard USS Intrepid
March 22, 2010
By Tim Hipps
NEW YORK (March 22, 2010) -- Four former Soldiers from the Army Entertainment Division drew a standing ovation aboard the USS Intrepid during their inaugural concert taped March 15 for a television show that will air in June on PBS.
In only three months, 4TROOPS recorded its self-titled debut album scheduled for release April 28. The hit single, "For Freedom," will be released any day now. Their first television special has been filmed and military installation and national concert tours are being booked.
U.S. Army Soldier Show Production Director Victor Hurtado brought his protAfAgAfAs together to assemble 4TROOPS and served as associate producer for the album.
"It has a historic feel to have these four combat veterans producing a product here on the USS Intrepid," Hurtado said. "Everyone on the production team who has heard the album says that it's easily the most believable, organic piece of work that they've done - because it comes from them. There's nothing strategic or put on about this record - it's them.
"They are incredible people, incredible former Soldiers, incredible veterans. That's who they are, and it relates to their lives, the lives of those that they served with, and the lives of those who continue to serve."
The singing group's mission is to share the sacrificial experiences of Soldiering and Army family life with the world. Their emotionally patriotic songs share down-to-earth military life tales that tug at the heartstrings and offer a glimpse into the lives of servicemembers and their families.
"My hope through all of this is that we continue to touch the lives of Americans, of Armed Forces, of people across the world," said retired Staff Sgt. Ron Henry, who served 20 years on active duty and was one of five finalists in the inaugural Military Idol competition of 2005. "If the world could hear this CD, I want them to hear it because I want them to feel the love and the camaraderie throughout this whole project - that it brings a sense of peace, a sense of closure, a sense of happiness to every Family member across this world."
The Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation singing contest, based on the premises of American Idol, since has been renamed Operation Rising Star. Henry, who served as a transport manager in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, finds it hard to fathom how being a singing Soldier has brought him full circle to realize a lifelong dream.
"Being deployed was a great experience for me," Henry said. "It was fearful not knowing if you were going to see the next day, not knowing when you were going to see your friends. There were some friends over there that I did lose. But I knew somewhere down deep in my heart that I had a purpose. Not only to go over there, but using my talents and the gifts that I feel God has given me to sing, to bring a joy, a sense of encouragement when these Soldiers were down and out and missing their families and loved ones. I knew I was a part of that plan to help bring them over."
Henry's heart swells when he talks about the 4TROOPS album.
"I listen to the album and it brings tears to my eyes because I know we put our heart in it, we put our sweat in it, we put every fiber of our being into this album to show the love and support," he said. "I feel like I'm on the other side now. I'm not active duty anymore, but I want to thank all those servicemembers that are over in Iraq now, that are getting ready to go, that are training to go - I want to be the one now to say 'thank you' so that I can go in my house and sleep at night knowing that they are doing what they've been trained to do and they're doing it with pride, dignity and integrity. I'm on the thankful side now, and I want to say 'thank you' through this project."
Sgt. Daniel Jens, 36, finished 11th in "America's Got Talent" during the summer of 2008. That autumn, he performed for AED inside the Installation Management Command's booth at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual convention in Washington. He also performed at the 234th U.S. Army Birthday Ball in the nation's capital.
"I've been playing guitar for about 15 years and singing for as long as I can remember," said Jens, who was inspired to join the Army at age 32 by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "After 9/11, I wanted to do something greater with my life, something that had meaning. Trying to chase that rock-and-roll dream and living that party lifestyle just wasn't doing me any good."
The dramatic lifestyle change landed Jens in Iraq from October 2006 until January '08. "I'd probably say the first month was a little scary," Jens said. "You've got mortars dropping. You're driving convoy missions and you've got bullets bouncing off your vehicle; IEDs exploding. You tend to get a little used to it after awhile. The one thing I didn't get used to, though, was being away from my wife and kids. You never get used to that."
In Iraq, Jens became an Operation Happy Note star by entertaining troops with his guitar after they returned from missions in the field. He still cherishes his decision to serve.
"I'm really glad that I did it," he said. "It's done me a world of good."
Capt. Meredith Melcher and Sgt. David Clemo performed in the 2004 U.S. Army Soldier Show, an "entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier" song-and-dance extravaganza that annually tours the world. Clemo also served as assistant director for two seasons.
"If I wouldn't have joined the military and been involved with Army Entertainment, I wouldn't have learned both sides of performing," Clemo said. "It gives me a better appreciation for what I'm doing now. The skills I learned there have made this so much easier for me. If I would never have been in the show in 2004, I would have never worked with Army Entertainment, and I would definitely not be here."
Clemo joked that it was much better being reunited with Melcher in New York as opposed to Fort Belvoir, Va., because "I don't have to salute her."
On a more serious note, Clemo recalled the 2005 experience of deployment in Iraq, where he performed at numerous talent shows, chaplain services and sang countless national anthems.
"If you have any type of singing ability or musical ability, you become kind of a hot commodity because they are looking for anything to boost morale because days get tough sometimes," he said.
Clemo, 30, a native of Mount Vernon, Wash., prefers the 4TROOPS experience over life as a Soldier, but he realizes that it is designed to give back.
"The best part of this whole project really is the positive feel behind it," he said. "It's not politically tricky. It's not trying to pull on heartstrings, although there definitely is emotion to it. It's basically us saying we understand what you're going through and bringing it across to civilians who might not understand. It hopefully comes to a point where everyone feels comfortable enough to say thank you."
"When people told me 'thank you,' I didn't feel like I deserved it. On the other side, people didn't know how to actually say 'thank you.' Hopefully, this will bridge that."
Melcher said she had to "grow up fast" as a young lieutenant responsible for leading troops and handling medical supplies on the front lines in Iraq. She also did a six-month tour of entertaining troops.
"All of those skills I now take with me as a recording artist because it's about building relationships and being responsible for your actions," said Melcher, 29. "When people tell you to be on time when going to the studio, being on time and being respectful of other people's time and experience and energy - really not taking anything for granted and just being mindful of the whole process and appreciative.
"Army Entertainment really took my performance to a whole new level. I did some work in choirs and I directed an a capella group in college, but Army Entertainment gave me the skills that I needed to be a good performer and really put on a show and get the audience motivated and entertained. It certainly helped with my vocal ability, knowing my strengths and weaknesses and knowing how to enhance those.
"They really gave me the professionalism to be able to do what I'm doing now. You always hope to live your dream, but the reality is most people don't. I can honestly say that I'm living my dream and I think that's what makes this so surreal. To actually say, 'I'm a professional singer,' it's certainly a privilege and an honor."
Melcher's younger sister, Katie, 24, will perform in the 2010 U.S. Army Soldier Show. "The fact that she's doing this and actually putting it on public display, I never thought I'd see the day, but I couldn't be prouder," Meredith said. "My parents are psyched, too. I will make time to go see her perform."
The Soldier Show sister duo are daughters of Lt. Gen David Melcher, who retired in 2008 from the Pentagon. He and his wife were aboard the Intrepid for the show on Monday night. "I couldn't be more proud of her being a part of this group and what this group represents to all those that are serving today and veterans and members of families who are all part of this world we live in," he said. "This is a great group and it means a lot to a lot of people."
While serving in Iraq, Henry realized how much his "gift" meant to others when he sang at chaplain services and talent events.
"Every Sunday, I was music director for the chaplain," Henry said. "We eventually moved from a tent when they contracted Iraqis to build us an actual building. We had instruments, drums, a piano, and we had a choir. And every Sunday we had church. The Army attended to every Soldier's religious needs and whatever they needed to survive. That was an outlet. And it was packed every Sunday morning because they needed that type of encouragement."
"I felt that I would have done myself an injustice and my country and the people that I serve with an injustice not to use what was given me to be a part of the solution to help Soldiers get through that next week, get through that next month, and then bring it back home."
"I'm so honored to have been able to do that. And now I feel like if you give of yourself, eventually it will come back to you. I feel like this opportunity has come back to me for a dream come true. I can't even fathom now what I've seen - all this being put together for the 4TROOPS. This dream is being fulfilled and abundantly more. It's more than I ever could have imagined what's taking place and happening to us."
Henry credits a lot of Army training for helping him find the way to the bright lights of New York City.
"Discipline," he explained. "Being respectful of others; not burning bridges; just trying to create peace and harmony no matter what situation you're in. I'd rather show the world that we are a team - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard - we all serve a purpose and we couldn't do without one or the other. We all need each other."
He also exhibits the kind of selflessness Soldiers are trained to attain.
"I'm not even worried about myself," Henry said. "I'm doing what I love to do. I feel like if I couldn't sing, I'd just say, 'You can shoot me now.' I really would, because it's an outlet for me. It's my comfort zone. I express myself through song and I know I can capture a crowd and make them understand and make them see what I've been through and what these American Armed Forces servicemembers have been through."
Hurtado hopes to see the trend continue.
"This feels like a pavement project for future troops," he concluded. "It feels like it's paving the way because it's solid and it's real and it's good. Hopefully, we'll have other veterans and troop artists following in their footsteps."
(Tim Hipps writes for FMWRC Public Affairs.)