Songstress shares her gift with Soldiers, Families
October 17, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Sometimes a song can change a life.
For Staff Sgt. Linda Wolfe, singing the national anthem in the reception area of Germany's Frankfurt am Main Airport, changed hers.
Wolfe, the lead vocalist for the 10th Mountain Division's rock band, "Avalanche," didn't start her Army career thinking she would be entertaining Soldiers and Families around the world.
"I've been singing since I was 3 … ever since I could remember," she said. "It's always been my calm place."
When Wolfe joined the Army 18 years ago, she started out as a 92A, automated logistical specialist. Making the switch to a musical military occupational specialty was never in her plans, although she was involved in several military choirs and she sang at different unit events.
"Being a 92A isn't a bad gig," Wolfe said. "There are a lot of opportunities in the civilian sector (for people with experience in that MOS)."
Music also led her to her husband, Master Sgt. Terry Wolfe, who recently returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with 10th Sustainment Brigade. She met her future husband while serving in Iraq, although the two didn't start their romantic relationship until they were both stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.
"It's crazy that I had to go that far to meet my soul mate," she said, laughing. "He was a tenor in my choir when I was director of the Anaconda Mass Choir. He would always be in the back and never wanted to be heard too much."
At the end of the deployment, everyone exchanged contact information.
"He knew I was going to Fort Campbell, so I told him that if he ever came there to give me a call and I'd show him around," Wolfe said. "I got an email from him that he was coming, and we ran into each other at the gym. We looked at each other … and that's where it started."
The two were married Sept. 1, 2006, after Terry Wolfe returned from a deployment.
"Just try out."
It wasn't until Linda Wolfe received orders for Germany that she faced a fork in the road.
In 2005, with orders to Bamberg in one hand and the possibility of a new life for her Family in the other, Wolfe boarded an airplane.
"I had a friend who was in Heidelberg, (Germany), who knew I could sing," she said. "She told me that the (U.S. Army Europe) Band and Chorus would be a good opportunity for me. She said, 'just try out.'"
Wolfe left her children, Khalid and Regina, in the U.S. because she wasn't sure what would happen. If she went to Bamberg, there was a good chance she would deploy, but if she became a member of the USAREUR Band and Chorus, she could have her children accompany her.
Her friend arranged for representatives from the musical ensemble to meet them at the airport. When she arrived, however, they weren't there. Wolfe made up her mind to sign in and report to Bamberg.
Before Wolfe officially signed in, her friend reassured her that the scouts would be there, and she took Wolfe to get something to eat after her long flight. When they finished, the USAREUR Band and Chorus representatives were waiting for her.
"I sang the national anthem for them at the reception desk, and they changed my orders to Heidelberg," she said. "If they had not arrived at that time, I would've gotten on the bus to Bamberg and I would've been committed to that mission there. I guess I impressed them."
After arriving in Heidelberg, Wolfe began the 30-day audition process.
"It was very stressful. They have to make sure you can sing and dance," she explained. "They give you material to learn; you have to sing in German and sing quartet style."
Her final test was to sing the German national anthem and three songs that the judges selected.
"I was ready after 15 days," Wolfe said.
"It was all on the line. It was a lot of pressure," she continued. "I passed the audition, got permanent orders and by doing that, I became the choreographer for the USAREUR Band and Chorus and an MPT (music performance team) leader."
Wolfe found out that the Army's vocalist MOS was going to be available and her command wanted her to have the opportunity to try out.
"We were going to Washington, D.C., for a mission," she said. "I performed the whole day, then (went to) an audition (at the U.S. Army School of Music), which was the most important thing of my life, and they liked what they saw, so they offered me the MOS."
Working for the Army's European headquarters offered Wolfe a lot of opportunities she would have never had otherwise. During her six years in Germany, she performed in London for Prince Philip, husband of the Queen of England, and on the Red Square in Moscow. She also performed in Norway and at many international military ceremonies across Europe.
"There are things that I did with the USAREUR Band and Chorus that even if I was singing and gigging in the civilian world, I would have never had the opportunity to be immersed in different cultures," Wolfe said. "It's just mind blowing (to think) about all the opportunities the band has given me."
Sharing a gift
Even though her husband was deployed for the first year stationed at Fort Drum, Wolfe still considers the past year as a "break" for her Family because during their time in Germany, she was gone a lot.
"This environment was really stressful when I first got here, with my husband being gone after only being here a month, but I'm finally at the point where I'm actually digging Fort Drum," Wolfe said. "I've got my MPT, and our repertoire is building and building. I just want to let everybody out there know that what people think of a military band -- we're so much more.
"We have so many talented people in this organization. We go out and perform for civilians, and they don't know that we have a rock band," she added. "I want to open their eyes and let them know that there are so many elements in our organization. I'm proud to be in the 10th Mountain Division Band. I think we're going to be doing big things."
Many of her gigs while she's been stationed at Fort Drum have been performing with Avalanche at welcome home ceremonies and community events like the annual Watchfire in Syracuse and Syracuse University's military appreciation day.
"It's very challenging to sing at (welcome home ceremonies at) 1, 2 or 3 a.m., especially being a rock band," Wolfe said. "I try to select things that are not 'in your face' as much, but still get their minds off of what is going to happen in the next 15-20 minutes."
Wolfe added that because Family Members are so emotional and excited to see their Soldiers, sometimes it's hard to get them to loosen up and relax.
"I (think I) kind of surprise them and make them loosen up a little, take away the stress that's in their chest for just a moment," she said. "I feel like every time you get on stage, you need to … try to have that same energy (at every performance)."
In preparation for her husband's welcome home ceremony last week, Wolfe admitted that she wasn't sure what the band would perform.
"I told myself that I'll sing all love songs. He can hear me even if he can't see me," she said, laughing. "I'll be a little selfish. I'm dual military, but I am an Army wife too."
Even though Avalanche is a rock band, Wolfe doesn't want to pigeonhole herself or her Soldiers.
"I like all kinds of music -- jazz, R&B, rock -- if it says something to my soul, I like it. It doesn't have to be one genre," she said. "I'm lucky to be a leader of an MPT. My MPT has my influences. I'm able to sing things that I think people want to hear and make our repertoire massive so we can lock into everybody."
When planning a set list, Wolfe tries to reach every person in the audience, from older generations to younger people.
"(We're just) trying to make everybody happy," she explained. "The choices that we make -- I have to feel them. I don't want to just put junk out there. If we're spending so much time on selection, it has to be for a purpose and it has to be able to reach an audience.
"Singing on the outside (in the civilian world), I did that the same way," Wolfe continued. "Everything I sing I want to be able to identify with the lyrical content. If you don't identify with the songs you're singing, you're just making noise. My intention is to create a moment for someone."
Being a singer is almost like being an actress, Wolfe added.
"I might not be going through that particular emotion that I'm exuding, but I want to tap into it," she noted. "You want to tap into that situation or those lyrics so that a person in the audience can feel what you're saying."
Once people hear Wolfe's voice, many ask why she's in the Army and not on a TV talent show or cutting records with a big-name producer.
"I always tell them that my services are free. These are the people who need the support," she said.
Wolfe added that aside from her own military service, and that of her husband, she's an "Army brat," and she truly enjoys supporting and entertaining military Families.
"I've had that civilian life singing and there's more pressure. … And it distracts the talent and the art," Wolfe said. "I think this is more important for our country that we have vocalists and musicians who provide a service for free, and it's the same quality that you'd see someone getting paid millions of dollars to do.
"The money is good, but what I feel inside after a veteran comes up to me and says 'thank you for your service' and you know you reached that individual because they're crying," she continued. "That's my payment. If it's just one or two people that we can reach during a performance, that's what we do this for."