BAMBERG, Germany - Although Chaplain (Capt.) Don Williamson calls Missoula, Mont., home, it was growing up in Connecticut where he first began developing vocally.

"When I was in 6th through 8th grade, I was part of the American Boy Choir," Williamson said of the Princeton, N.J., based school. "We toured all over the world. I was a soloist soprano, I got to
meet President (Ronald) Reagan."

He continued singing through high school and joined the glee club at the United States Military Academy at West Point. It was also at West Point where Williamson created a six-person a capella harmony group with five schoolmates called Six-Pack.

"I sang Proud to Be an American at a West Point football game at half-time," he said. "I was then asked to sing at Gen. (H. Norman) Schwarzkopf, Jr.'s 35th Reunion."

During his post-college years, Williamson said most of his singing has been in church.

"I never tried out (for any competitions)," he said. "I was interested in trying out for the Soldier show, but I could never find the time."

Very active at Stable Theater, Williamson, his wife and their four daughters first heard about the contest through employee James Frederick. The girls encouraged their father to compete.

"I got to know Don during last year's performance here of 'A Christmas Carol,'" Frederick said. "Don played Scrooge in it. His talent was the center piece of that show. He's also been irreplaceable as a volunteer and general advocate for the theater on-post."

Williamson's song choice for the first round of tryouts was "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban.

"I needed to sing an a capella song and I wanted to do a song that showed my whole range," he said.

His second performance choice, "Cinderella" by Steven Curtis Chaplin, was inspired by his children, who convinced him to compete, he said.

"It really is a wonderful song about dads and their daughters," Williamson said.

Contestants in the Washington finals have only a 90-second slot to sing a part of their community finals song choice.

Williamson said he is nervous about this part of the competition, when six of the 12 contestants will be cut.

His fans are confident.

"I honestly think he's got a pretty good chance in D.C. after having watched videos of some of the other contestants," Frederick said.

"A lot of people can sing but to be able to deliver an intriguing performance on stage is a whole different beast. He's got serious stage presence."

Williamson said he feels the support of Warner Barracks.

"This community is such a warm community," he said. "I have a lot of friends. Everyone seems so excited for me. It makes me feel very honored to be representing Bamberg."

Another Bamberg local, Joyce Dodson, competed in the 2008 Operation Rising Star finals, winning first place. The grand prize included an all expense paid trip to Los Angeles, Calif., three days of studio time at a professional recording studio and a three-song demo CD.

Williamson said that his main goal for the finals reflects his religious vocation.

"I'm a chaplain first," he said. "My goal is that I'm able to minister to the other 11 contestants and that people in the audience know God."

To those contestants who did not make it as far, Williamson offered advice.

"If you stay with singing because you love to sing, there is nowhere for you to go but get better," he said. "If it becomes a passion, be ready to pursue it.

"Be yourself when you sing. Just have your own voice."

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