The NCOs of the U.S. Army Soldier Show
January 11, 2012
Whether singing, dancing or being in charge of the lights, NCOs are leading from the front, in front of large audiences
Talented NCOs lead in many different places -- in convoys in Iraq; in training exercises at Fort Benning, Ga.; on mountainsides in Afghanistan. In any part of the Army where there are NCOs, there are many talented ones. But in only one place can NCOs with talent to perform, sing and dance not only fine-tune their craft, but lead from the front.
That place is Morale Welfare and Recreation's U.S. Army Soldier Show.
A 90-minute live musical production, the Soldier Show boosts the morale of Soldiers by providing entertainment both at home and abroad. The Soldier Show is the only show that is performed entirely by active-duty Soldiers, who come from all types of military occupational specialties. History of the show Variations of the Soldier Show have been present in the Army long before the show was officially established in 1983.
Irving Berlin is attributed with founding the Soldier Show during World War I when he directed the program Yip Yip Yaphank, which appeared on Broadway in 1918.
During World War II, Broadway and the Army reinvented the show under the title This is the Army, which Berlin also wrote and directed.
Berlin is also credited with the motto of the U.S. Army Soldier Show: "Entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier."
Eventually, the Soldier Show looked to other Army commands' talent shows to draw NCOs and Soldiers from around the world. The best compete for slots in the Soldier Show for the opportunity to go on tour around the Army to boost the morale of Soldiers and entertain their families.
The road to the stage
This year, NCOs of the Soldier Show come from as far as Korea and Germany to produce a show that will entertain their audience of mostly Soldiers and their families. These talented individuals go through a rigorous process, though, before they ever appear on stage.
After submitting their packets to Installation Management Command, the U.S. Army Entertainment Office selects a few Soldiers to audition in-person in February at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where they are judged on their physical training, uniform appearance and dance ability.
After the live audition, Soldiers are notified whether they will be temporarily attached to the Army Entertainment Office. For those select few, the show has just begun.
Starting in February and going into March, Soldiers with the show average 12- to 16-hour days, which include military formations, aerobic workouts, vocal coaching, dance training and learning how to assemble and dismantle the stage.
The performers must memorize about 40 songs -- in styles as varied as country, R&B, gospel, rock, oldies, soul and patriotic songs. Meanwhile, Soldiers in the technical crew master the lighting, audio and video support to provide special effects.
Once NCOs take the performance on the road, they work 14-hour days, seven days a week. At each stop, the crew offloads, assembles, dismantles and reloads 18 tons of equipment, 4 miles of cable and 100 theatrical lights.
The entire production travels around the country in a 44-passenger bus, two 18-wheel tractor trailers and a 15-passenger van. The equipment and the crew are entirely self-sufficient; they can perform in a gym at Fort Jackson, S.C., or a theater in downtown El Paso, Texas.
Over the course of nine months, these NCOs will perform 106 shows. They will perform in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the "Lower 48," Hawaii, Alaska and Korea -- mostly at military installations or the communities that neighbor them.
The 2011 show featured a carnival theme, complete with ring masters. The ange of songs --from "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" to "Hallelujah" to a Chinese fan dance -- appealed to their diverse audience.
Sgt. Chad Zeller is a 91L heavy equipment repairer from the Fort Knox, Ky., garrison headquarters. As a technician with the show, he's developed his leadership as an NCO, he said.
"As far as professional development, it's really good," Zeller said. "I get to meet a plethora of Soldiers from totally different MOSs, and all of them have been taught with different leadership styles."
The Soldier Show is structured to mimic the operational Army, Zeller said.
"We are broken down into squads and platoons," Zeller said. "So they still have the structure of military life inside an organization meant to entertain."
Before every performance, NCOs inspect Soldiers' costumes, resembling uniform inspections in the operational Army.
"If Soldiers are out of regulation in their costumes, then it's their job to maintain them as if they were their Army Service Uniform or Army Combat Uniform," Zeller said. "We still incorporate military regulations and adapt them to the uniforms that we have here."
Sgt. Jeremy Wesby plays the drums for the Soldier Show, making appearances in the songs "Hallelujah," "Never Say Never" and "Pretty Girl." He's been playing the drums since before he can remember.
For his audition, Wesby recorded himself playing a Jason Derülo song while deployed to Iraq. During his deployment, Wesby lived on an Air Force base, where he played the drums at church.
"Everybody knows they have to deploy," Wesby said. "Everybody knows that they have to be a Soldier in the Army. But I never knew that the Army has something like [the Soldier Show]."
The mission of morale-boosting that the Soldier Show provides is important -- especially to NCOs overseas, Wesby said.
"It's very inspiring to a lot of people," he said. "In a way, you're living your dream -- you get to sing, you get to dance, and you get to do it in front of people you know."
Sgt. Nesstor Delica has been serving in the Army for the last two and a half years as a 42R bandsman trumpet player.
"As a bandsman, it adds to the variety of what you've done," Delica said. "It adds performance time. In the bands, it's a lot of performing. But here it's elaborate, so you get more experience with that."
Before he joined the Army, Delica played the violin, trumpet and piano; he also sang, danced and performed at concerts and musicals at school and community events. He joined the Army right out of high school and first saw the Soldier Show in 2009.
He was playing the violin in a talent show in Korea when a recruiter for the Soldier Show suggested he audition for the Soldier Show.
He is assigned to the 434th Signal Corps Band, Fort Gordon, Ga. His command sent him to the Army Entertainment office in February to gain experience.
"We had two months to practice," Delica said. "24/7 we were either sleeping or practicing -- a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun at the same time."
The key to performing in the Soldier Show is to keep an upbeat and positive attitude, Delica said. The time and energy is well worth it -- especially when Soldiers and their families express their appreciation, he said.
"They come through the receiving line and say, 'Thank you for what you've done.' You see them really happy and enjoying their time -- especially basic training Soldiers," Delica said. "It's a good time. We're impacting Soldiers in a positive manner."
Staff Sgt. Joshua Davis draws his inspiration from Michael Jackson and Jay-Z, adding a blend of hip-hop and dance to the Soldier Show.
"I really wanted to do something the crowd would understand and know already," Davis said.
After deploying twice to Iraq, Davis said he can appreciate the mission of the Soldier Show.
"It's important to the larger Army because we boost the morale of the Soldiers across the United States as well as overseas," Davis said. "Being a Soldier who has deployed twice, [I can see that] morale definitely gets low, and seeing stuff like this definitely boosts morale."
Sgt. Quashika Taylor sang and danced in the 2011 show. When she saw the show in 2010, it inspired her to audition. She sang Alicia Keys' "No One" for her audition and performed "California Gurls" by Katy Perry in the 2011 Soldier Show.
"I love it, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to be a member of the Soldier Show," Taylor said. "I'll forever go to the Soldier Shows, and later on in the years, hopefully things change a lot more. When I get older and I'm a vet, I can come back and tell people that this is what I did when I was in the military."
As a squad leader, she makes sure the four Soldiers she's in charge of are taken care of -- even helping them prep for the show.
She's assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 302nd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Casey, Korea, but her command granted her permission to perform in the Soldier Show for nine months.
She encourages other NCOs to audition for the Soldier Show because, like many other aspects of the Army, the Soldier Show is a unique opportunity available nowhere else, Taylor said.
"If they really like to sing and dance, it's a good opportunity for them to actually know how it feels to be a superstar, because that's how we're all being treated -- like we're superstars," she said. "We're superstars in the Army."
While the Soldier Show has a unique mission, the NCOs of the Show live up to their Army values and the NCO Creed.
They guide their Soldiers, enforce standards, maintain discipline and train a new generation of Soldiers to not only lead from the front but to perform there as well.