By Jeff Crawley, Fort Sill TribuneOctober 13, 2016
FORT SILL, Okla. (Oct. 13, 2016) -- Their message to suffering service members was simple: "You are not alone in your struggle, there are others here to help, and you owe it to yourself to get better."
The point comes out loud and clear through the rock music of the combat wounded warrior band Vetted. The five-member group of combat vets who are retired for medical reasons, and one civilian first responder, performed Sept. 29, at Sheridan Theater here as part of the outreach activities during Suicide Awareness Month.
"Music is our tool to communicate with service members who are hurting, going through struggles," said retired Staff Sgt. Paul Delecerda, Vetted's leader, manager and drummer."We are doing our best to reduce the 22 veteran suicides a day."
Vetted, which is based in Houston, spends about 200 days a year on the road worldwide performing for service members in the five branches, as well as at civilian gigs. At Fort Sill, the 77th Army Band's rock group Centerfire performed first. Then the two bands played "We're an American Band" together, before Vetted took over. The crowd was small, but appreciative and loud.
Delacerda, an infantryman and paratrooper who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) after an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq, in 2005, said the band members are proof that by being resilient, service members can achieve great things even after suffering tremendous adversity.
"Pick up the phone, talk to somebody, look for resources, whatever it takes," he said. One's problems don't have to be combat-related either. They can be financial, relationship issues, health problems.
"Suicide prevention starts with the person suffering. When they seek help, then they can help others," said Delecerda, who confided that he contemplated suicide. "When you save yourself from drowning, then guess what -- you know how to do it, and now you can save others, too."
Vocalist and rhythm guitarist retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Shannon Book said there is life after the military.
"I want them to recognize that just because they no longer carry an MOS (military occupational specialty) or their ID cards have expired doesn't mean their lives have," said Book, who suffers from PTSD and TBI.
Book, who fought with Marines in Fallujah, said his injuries influence a lot of things in his daily life, "but they don't own me."
Civilian firefighter and EMT Jared Jones was invited to join the band earlier this year after its Marine bass player needed a break. Jones' father was a Soldier, and Jones said he has seen the effects of veteran suicides at the Port Neches (Texas) Fire Department.
Many of Vetted's songs are originals by Book as well as compositions co-written by the members based on their experiences, Jones said.
"A lot of 'us' is put out there in our music and a lot of people are connecting with it," said Jones, who is able to travel with the band by swapping shifts at the fire department and using his vacation time.
Back in Houston at a 15,000 square-foot studio, Delacerda created a music therapy program for combat veterans called Rock for Recovery.
"We provide opportunities for wounded warriors and veterans to use music as a teaching tool," Delacerda said. "We connect them with national artists."
Vetted represents hope and a connection to let servicemen and women and veterans know that they are not alone and that there is help out there, said lead guitarist retired Marine Lance Cpl. James Greenlee. He said the band's veterans have all gone through rough times because of their injuries, and they still have issues they have to deal with day to day.
"Vetted wants to be there for the service members; we want to be someone that we didn't have when we were felt alone and down-and-out," Greenlee said.
Vocalist and guitarist retired Staff Sgt. Nick Firth said as a noncommissioned officer he loved taking care of his Soldiers. That all changed after an IED blew up under him in Iraq, in 2006, mutilating his leg. Doctors eventually had to amputate it.
"I wasn't ready to be out of the Army, but the Army doesn't need a limbless infantrymen," said Firth, who tours with his service dog, Thor. "Through Vetted, I still get to take care of Soldiers."