By Tim HippsApril 6, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (April 6, 2010) -- Recording-artist vocalists from Soldier Show past visited members of the 2010 U.S. Army Soldier Show to share tips of survival in the music industry at Wallace Theater March 31.
4TROOPS, a singing quartet of former Soldiers who honed their skills in the Army Entertainment Division, recently recorded their debut album in New York City.
The group has already embarked on a national concert tour, including stops to sing the national anthem at Major League Baseball home-openers for the New York Mets April 5 and the Philadelphia Phillies April 12.
Last week, 4TROOPS returned to Fort Belvoir to give back to the U.S. Army Soldier Show by mentoring the current cast.
"This is phenomenal," said Ron Henry, one of five finalists in the inaugural Military Idol singing contest who is now a member of 4TROOPS. "Talk about giving back. We're here with Army Entertainment and just saw part of the Soldier Show and these guys are phenomenal."
"The coordination, the harmony, the dynamics, the excitement in their voices, it is just mind-boggling. I'm just speechless, but I loved it - so much energy and so much joy in what they were doing. You can't beat this. This is true Army talent from all across the world. It's absolutely fabulous."
Henry, a 20-year Army veteran who apparently does not know the meaning of speechless, said he derived as much if not more satisfaction from the troops as they did from the 4TROOPS.
"It's a tear-jerker," he said. "I'm so emotional within my heart to see what's still coming behind us and what we paved the way for. It's just phenomenal."
Meredith Melcher, who toured with the Soldier Show in 2004, returned to find her younger sister, Katherine, among the current cast.
"That was really cool to see the next generation of troop talent," she said. "To just come in and share our music with them and have them share some of their music with us is just a really cool experience. And the fact that my sister is in the show makes it a little bit more special for me. When I see her in the Army Entertainment sweats it just brings back a lot of memories of being on stage and learning the choreography and rehearsing."
"It was really cool to sort of pass the torch."
At least the Melchers knew they would see each other at Fort Belvoir. Henry had no idea who he would run into at Wallace Theater. He is the godfather of Soldier Show performer Spc. Demetria Stewart's daugther. Neither knew the other was involved with either group.
"This sweetheart right here, we go back like four flats on a Cadillac," Henry told the group. "I've known her since 2000. I had no idea she was here. When she walked up to me, I had to really get myself together because I was about to cry because we are so close and we have such a history with our families."
Stewart said she did a double-take when Henry entered the theater.
"I haven't seen him in years," she said. "Actually, we met in church, and my ex-husband and Ron used to do music together. He became so close to us that when my daughter was born, we asked him to be her godfather."
"I had no idea that he was in 4TROOPS and he did not know that I was in the show. I went past him and I said, 'Is your name Ron'' And he just looked at me like, 'Who are you'' because I had my hair cut. We did not recognize each other. But I said, 'Ron, my daughter's godfather.' And he said, 'Yes!' so I gave him a big hug. I was teary-eyed, and I know he was teary-eyed, as well."
The current troops absorbed as much as they could from the 4TROOPS.
"They gave us some inspiration," Stewart said. "They gave us some advice of what to look for and what not to do, and it also gave us motivation to see where we could be in the near future. We're starting now and we're developing, so this is like a foundation. I would love to be an entertainer just to entertain people and bring a smile to their face."
Stewart realizes that much must be accomplished before the 2010 Soldier Show opens April 23 at Fort Belvoir.
"We have a long way to go, but we're not where we used to be," she said. "We've been here for a little over a month and we have three weeks to go until the first show. And then we hit the road, so we are excited. Even though it's hard work, this is something we all want to do, so we're willing to go through the process to get to where we're supposed to be."
Henry's tale of becoming a recording artist struck a chord with the young, aspiring Soldier-performers.
"I'm 41 years old and retired from the Army, and if you told me two or three years ago that I would be sitting right here, I would be just like: 'Y'all crazy,'" he said. "I never thought it would come this way. I was always trying to do it on my own or trying to start my own shop up in my room - build a little studio and try to do it myself and be like Master P and sell it out of the trunk of my car."
He told the troops to stick to their dreams.
"Encourage one another. Encourage one another," Henry said. "Whatever dream you've got, I don't care how long it takes you. Fight. Fight for what you believe in. Fight for your goals. Fight for your aspirations. Do not give up. If you give up, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Don't give up. Smile on every note. Give it your all."
After the veterans finished filling the Soldier Show performers' minds with their brief experience in the recording industry, Hurtado reversed the stage.
"We've written original stuff for the show in the past," Hurtado told the group. "Sergeant Clemo sang "A Soldier's Heart," which Mr. [Joey] Beebe wrote. I've written songs for the opening. But this cast took the five pillars of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness and wrote an original piece of music, collectively."
"Can we hear it'" Clemo could not resist saying. "Are you scared'"
The Soldier Show troops promptly stood up and sang loudly and proudly for the 4TROOPS. "I'm getting my marshmallow roast in," Hurtado said as the current performers semi-circled around their predecessors as if gathering around a campfire.
And the music played. And the 4TROOPS' smiles beamed while the Soldiers sang their finale, produced by Soldier Show production manager Staff Sgt. Kevin Lynum.
"We're gonna make it. We're gonna make it. We're gonna make it," the chorus concluded.
"Touchdown! Touchdown!" Henry exclaimed. "Oh, my God!"
"Chills! Chills!" chimed in Daniel Jens, another 4TROOPS performer.
"You're kidding me," Melcher added. "Oh, my gosh. That's awesome."
Hurtado simply stood back and glowed like a proud papa.
"I've had a little bit of a hard time today with the straddling because 4TROOPS has been neatly in New York - it's a whole 'nother time - and Soldier Show has been neatly in Fort Belvoir," Hurtado said. "And for them to come together, I humbly realize how much I care about these troops because one of the troops who is in the new Soldier Show came up to me afterward and said, 'If we ever thought that you weren't going to take care of us once we leave here, the proof is here.' They got to see how they will continue to be taken care of, so it's pretty overwhelming."
Hurtado, who did a Christmas Unity Project with Kenny Loggins in the mid-1990s, was the last former Soldier Show alum to return and perform at the Fort Belvoir Community Center.
"I was kind of the last one that got to come back," he said. "I think it will inspire hope in the new cast to let them know they'll be taken care of probably for the rest of their life."
He explained what the 4TROOPS have done to open doors for Soldier-performers.
"They're carrying the weight now of the new genre of military music and you guys are coming up," Hurtado told his current cast. "Not right behind them, because their history is where you guys are now. You have to realize with this year's Soldier Show that this is happening. You're going to be far more visible and I'm really, really happy that you guys are as gifted as you are because it's almost like it was meant to be."
(Tim Hipps writes for FMWRC Public Affairs.)