JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Sitting in the studio with a member of Heart, Pfc. Dean Baker joined the ranks of 3 Doors Down, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains on May 18 when he recorded his own music at the London Bridge Recording Studios in Seattle.
Baker, a Warrior with Charlie Company, made the leap from singing and playing guitar in his barracks to recording a professional album thanks to the non-profit organization Operation Ward 57, which supports Wounded Warriors.
It all began when Baker made a last-minute decision to attend a flag-signing ceremony for an Operation Ward 57 poker tournament fund-raiser in Iraq; after the ceremony, he spoke with Deborah Semer, executive director and co-founder of the group.
"She asked me if there was one thing I'd like to do before I die. I said I'd like to make an album or have a song on the radio," Baker said. "If it weren't for Deborah, none of this would be going on; I can't thank her enough for every-thing she's done for me."
She called the next day, saying she knew the owners of London Bridge, Geoff Ott and Jonathan Plum, who would like to help record a few songs for free. Professionals in the music field volunteered to perform with Baker and re-cord his songs.
Semer had one more surprise for Baker.
"(She asked), What if I told you that Ben Smith from Heart wanted to play drums on your re-cording'Aca,!A, I freaked out, I was hooting and yelling," Baker said. He asked if his friend Michael Patrick "SmittyAca,!A, Smith, a "phenomenal" electric guitar player, could play as well; the two met while jamming at a local guitar store.
The day of the recording, "as soon as Ben stepped in the room, I just smiled like crazy, like I can't believe this is going on," Baker said. The group recorded four songs- one cover song by the group Staind and three alternative Christian songs Baker wrote himself.
"When I'm writing songs, it takes my mind away from the stress in life and puts it into what I love and enjoy doing," he said.
A Washington National Guard Soldier and combat engineer, Baker joined the Warrior Transition Battalion in June 2009 after being medevac'd from Iraq for lower back and hip injuries.
Both the Army and music were a part of his life from a young age; his dad and grandfather served as airborne rangers and were combat-injured as well.
"I grew up around it; I grew up around the lifestyle," said Baker.
As for music, "(It's) always been a part of my life. I always had music as a part of me."
He took part in nearly 50 musical productions through school and community shows, and learned to play trumpet, tuba, and drums. He mostly taught himself to play guitar on a handed-down Montana guitar.
Now, Baker finds that music helps with his healing and recovery, "especially at times when I'm down and out and not doing well, I'll pick up my guitar, play and sing and write songs. It really helps."
After six months of physical therapy, he thinks his back is healed as much as it will be.
"Now I'm trying to fight to get back to a somewhat normal state," Baker said. He is considering pursuing a pastoral degree, and is currently working on prerequisites through the help of the Soldier and Family Assistance Center.
He still has musical hopes as well.
"My dream is to open up as an opener for someone on tour... if I could someday get to the part of headliner, it'd be fantastic. That's what musicians want with music, is for someone to listen to you and cheer you on for what you wrote," Baker said. "It's having that connection with people... music was a healer for me; I want to have someone listen to it on the radio and have music be a healer for them."