Music for the troops, by the 'Troops'
October 25, 2010
Daniel Jens, member of the 4TROOPS musical group, asked the sound technician before bursting into a rap. His band mates, Meredith Melcher, Ron Henry and David Clemo shook their heads and laughed. Their energy and regard for one another was apparent while they warmed up onstage at Wallace Theater at Fort Belvoir, Va.
The band, together since December 2009, was at the theater to mentor the cast of the U.S. Army Soldier Show. Melcher, Henry, Clemo and Jens sang a few songs from their album (released May 11) for the cast and brought them all onstage for an impromptu meet-and-greet.
"Congratulations to all of you," Henry said with a big smile as the Soldiers gathered around. "You're doing something I never got the chance to do."
Though Henry didn't have the opportunity to be in the Soldier Show, the retired staff sergeant competed in "Operation Rising Star," an annual singing contest sponsored by Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command. There, he met Victor Hurtado, the current production director for the Soldier Show, who is also responsible for bringing 4TROOPS together.
"I had met Victor after I got off of 'America's Got Talent,'" Jens said. When the record label management approached Jens about forming a group, he immediately recommended Hurtado. "I trusted Victor with my life, and I knew that with his production background working with talented Soldiers, I trusted that they were going to be great."
Hurtado pulled in Melcher and Clemo, whom he worked with in the 2004 production of the Soldiers Show, and contacted Henry last. He "brought us all together because he knew about our talents, and our consistency and our reliability," Melcher said. She emphasized that reliability and accountability are important traits in the Army and the music industry.
The group imparted some valuable wisdom on the cast of Soldier Show: primarily to stay humble, appreciate the backstage and tech crews, and of course, to share their gifts.
"Encourage one another, whatever dream you've got," Jens said, "I don't care how long it takes; fight. Fight for what you believe in, fight for your goals."
4TROOPS has only been together as a group for a short time, but the band members work well together because they share a common background: all of them are combat veterans. Clemo and Jens are both former sergeants, and Melcher is a former captain.
The 4TROOPS members agreed that one of the most amazing things they experienced while deployed was performing for other Soldiers. Jens would use music to take his mind off things that worried him, and his friends would gather to hear him play guitar and sing.
"To see the war, so to speak, just melt off their faces, it was like we were back home around the campfire. And that's when it really hit for me," Jens said. "I can be doing something really important here. I can use my talent for something that's bigger than me."
Melcher sang for fellow Soldiers during a Fourth of July show and was touched by the reaction. "It's a really good feeling to get them to smile, even just for a little bit," she said.
Clemo served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Melcher in Iraq and Kuwait, and Jens and Henry served in Iraq. Their experiences as Soldiers and the ability to "adjust fire" quickly helped them in their transitions to musicians, Jens said.
"I think being a veteran gives us a unique perspective on life," Clemo explained, "and especially on this opportunity we have right now, to really bring awareness of servicemembers' lives."
Regardless of their adaptability, 4TROOPS members still found some of the hectic schedule a bit of a struggle.
"The hardest part, I would say, (is) challenging each other to bring out the best we could in the album," Henry said. "Every song, every lyric that we sung in the studio, that was really, really challenging because we had to do this very fast paced."
"We definitely have detail things we need to work out, like cut-offs, and...working on notes, and things like that," Clemo agreed. "We're continually striving to perfect that."
In addition to the musical adjustments they made in studio, the group found being away from their Families especially difficult.
"It's obviously worth it," Melcher said, "but being away from Family members is the one struggle, I think."
The 4TROOPS members are driven by the Soldiers and Families they perform for; they give their best to help make others feels better. The group wants to help bridge the gap between civilians who don't understand military life and the Soldiers, Clemo explained. "Even though we only have one original song on the actual CD, every song is personal to us," he said.
"This project is not about the war," Jens said. "It's about the warrior." Their mission is to provide hope and inspiration through their talents, he added.
"If a song or something I can say makes you have a brighter outlook on life and the goals you are trying to reach, I'm just humbled," Henry said, grateful to be a part of the group.
The Soldier Show cast performed an original song based on the principles of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (the Army's program designed to enhance resilience and coping skills among Soldiers, Family members and civilians) for the members of 4TROOPS, and the band was amazed.
Melcher was especially excited to meet the cast. "It's so cool to be able to show them anything is possible," she said.
Jens encouraged the cast to remember the Soldiers and Families when performances get tough, and to learn as much as possible from the show. "I'm living my dream, I really am," he said. "I never thought in a million years that it would happen this way."
"I just hope that we represent (the Soldiers) well," Clemo said.