By Sgt. Michelle BlesamFebruary 22, 2019
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The crowd thickened as more passengers arrived inside the Orlando International Airport, forced to wait for a shuttle to take them to their terminal. As they grew impatient, the song "Under the Boardwalk" resonated. The song wasn't coming from the airport intercom system; it was from the voices of Paratroopers.
Smiles formed among the faces in the crowd and cheers erupted as they turned to watch the Paratroopers sing the melodic tune. Many took their phones out to capture the moment. The crowd seemed to forget about their wait during the renditions of classic hit songs.
Although a good warm-up, the Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus didn't travel to sing in an airport.
The chorus traveled from their headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Florida to perform the "National Anthem" for the Daytona 500, a NASCAR cup series that opened this year's racing season on Feb. 17. U.S. Army Spc. Leslie Limon was one of the voices among the group. A Portland, Oregon-native, she enlisted to be a supply specialist, but auditioned for and was selected to be part of the "All American" Chorus.
Limon joined the military shortly after graduating from Reynolds High School in Portland. The oldest of four siblings and raised by a single mother, the 20-year-old vocalist wanted to seek new opportunities and explore the world as a young adult.
"I thought it was a crazy idea," Limon expressed. "But I wanted to live on my own, pay for my own things and travel."
Going to South Carolina for basic training was her first experience traveling across the country, she said.
Growing up Limon honed her talent through her high school years as a soprano for the school choir. She's remained a soprano for the division chorus and regularly performs as a soloist.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacquelyn Jones, the chorus noncommissioned officer in charge, attributed Limon's success to her ability to adapt and learn a new tune quickly.
"Limon has a very strong voice and she often sings "Soldier's Heart" during performances in retirement ceremonies," said Jones. "She's a strong singer within the section, so I can always rely on her."
Additionally, Limon has ability to manipulate her voice from the lower register to the higher register, an ability called "tapping vocal technique", said Jones, a Jacksonville, North Carolina-native.
The Paratroopers of the 82nd Abn. Div. Chorus have performed in hundreds of ceremonies and events across the world since 1967. One of Limon's favorite performances was in France, where she felt especially appreciated.
"Everyone in Normandy loves the military," said Limon. "They're also very welcoming and just super nice people. You wouldn't understand how much they love us when we go there."
Back in Daytona, the crowd roared with approval as the chorus performed in front of over a hundred thousand people.
As she stood beside her team in front of television cameras and spectators of the 61st Annual Daytona 500, the talented young Paratrooper knew she must appear confident.
"I used to have a lot of stage fright, but I love to sing," said Limon. "How I overcame that is singing in front of people, for friends and family members, and not being afraid to mess up."
Limon's talent is just one of the many things she brings to the chorus. The young specialist was also the section leader for the sopranos and ensured team members were prepared for their performances.
"Being a leader, you're in charge of the entire group, so it's your responsibility for the people in your section to know their music, can hit each tune correctly and accurately, and do it the same way every time," said Staff Sgt. Mark Bendel, Limon's squad leader. "She was able to do that and she was good at it."
As the Paratroopers uttered the closing notes of the anthem, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds screamed in formation over the track, their contrails lingering in the bright Florida skies. Sharply, the chorus marched off of the stage, followed by massive applause. Limon smiled softly.