The general of the Columbian Army reached out to an advertising executive who helped produce a pop song that contained a hidden Morse code message, which played on the radio, alerting the hostages to their upcoming rescue.
“What Hath God Wrought?” was the first message sent by Morse code in 1844 and some of these songs live up to it:
Morse code is actually still being used by the military. The last code classes were taught by the Army at Fort Huachuca in 2015. The Air Force is currently teaching this vital form of communication at Goodfellow AFB, Texas.
Ask any vet — music and combat go hand in hand. Whether pounding the drums of war, blaring the bugle calls, or recording songs after combat, music has underscored the good, the bad, and the ugly of warfare throughout human history.
“Live From Iraq” is a Rap album actually made by combat veterans in a theater of war.
It was produced and conceived by U.S. Army Sergeant Neal Saunders, an M1 Abrams tank crewman of the 1st Cav’s 112 Task Force, along with several of his buddies.
They were fighting around Baghdad and Sadr City in 2005. When not out on missions, Big Neal and his crew would record songs in a makeshift studio, using their paychecks to order equipment from a Sam Ash music store in Philadelphia.
It was the only Sam Ash that would ship to their APO address.
“Live From Iraq” takes the listener on a harrowing, poignant journey of a year-long deployment. There’s no boasting of riches, hot girls, or glorified violence — just words of truth with socially relevant lyrics:
“This is up armor kits and bulletproof windows/ We sleep with body armor blankets and Kevlar pillows,” are some lyrics from the title track, “Live From Iraq.”
The album samples a troops-in-contact moment on the song, “Lace Your Boots,” with the lyrics: “But it’s too late to switch/ After this full metal jacket grabs ’em/ Look we told ’em this was war/ And we told ’em we get at ’em/ This is war…”
“Reality Check” over a poignant piano riff calls out those who like to play soldier in style and attitude, but have never walked the walk: “Wanna be soldiers
Follow me I’ll take you to see some Marines in Fallujah/ And I hope you make it/ Or come visit my theater/ Shit I’ll show you some places/ But I really don’t think/ That y’all wanna go where I’ll take you…”
Big Neal has said that this album is the blood of soldiers and all that they have seen and done. One could argue that “Live From Iraq” is the original Battle Mix, one that still resonates today with many of our soldiers deployed.
Country music superstar Chris Young has released two platinum albums, been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and has nine number 1 hits. He’s on his Raised On Country Tour right now, and he took some time to talk about what it’s like to visit with Navy working dogs, to see so many vets and service members on his tour after his sister’s time in the Marines, and to have a tour sponsor in USAA that can help him get in touch with more military audiences.
Young picked the cities for the tour for the standard reasons, but he’s gotten to enjoy some little perks and experiences at military stops. Like when, two weeks ago, he got to hang out with dog handlers at Naval Base San Diego.
“There are so many markets where we’re going to go that are pretty large military markets as far as bases,” he said, “and, you know, we’re able to do the things like we did in San Diego on the naval base the other day.”
“We knew there were going to be a bunch of partnership opportunities like that [with USAA] and I just have a big love and respect for the military,” he said. “So anytime you get a tour sponsor where you know, everything already lines up on its own, it’s a pretty incredible thing.”
He isn’t new to the military experience, though. Young’s sister was a West Coast Marine who worked on helicopters. And she married another Marine. Seeing his sibling’s sacrifices deepened his respect for the military.
“I remember that I would see, first-hand, about the amount of time that people are going out. She and I have always been really, really, really close and so when you go months at a time, sometimes, without being able to see somebody because their travel versus what you’re doing to travel and anything else I think you understand it in a different way I guess.”
It’s his sister’s and his brother-in-law’s military service that he thinks of when he’s performing “The Dashboard,” a song about two brothers when one is sent to war and leaves his truck behind. For anyone who hasn’t heard it, we won’t give away the ending, but it’s not the ending made typical by “Riding with Private Malone.”
Young didn’t write “The Dashboard,” but he connected with it when he heard it.
“That song, buddy of mine Monty Criswell wrote it, and I just thought it was so different from the way I had heard other songs written even along the same line, topically, just the way he handled that song and made it something really, really special and anytime that I’ve played I always use the chance to reference my sister because obviously, she’s a Marine so I get a chance to nod to her and my brother-in-law when I sing that song and I always make sure to say something about them.”
For Young, who has gotten a kick out of playing for troops since he was at bases like Fort Bliss before his first record contract, it’s nice to get back in front of them. But as his fame has grown and technology has advanced, he’s found better ways of recognizing vets and service members in huge venues.
A partner company makes these “armbands where we’ve been able to ask people prior to the show, we go, ‘Hey have you or has anyone in your family served?’ And then we can actually light up their armbands for a song and kind of call them out say thank you that way … which is pretty cool.”
For Young, that made USAA agreeing to come as tour sponsor perfect. He already loved the military and liked to take time during shows to raise them up, so having a sponsor whose customer base is almost exclusively military families let everything sync up.
“I’m already totally all in on and any chance that I get to say thank you in multiple different ways to military, that’s something that’s been important to me my entire career. [Partnering with USAA] is just going to be awesome. It’s just going to work so I think it’s one of things that just happened.”
Do you have what it takes to be one of the few, the proud, the danceable? In this classic from a few years back, Marines bust a move when their favorite jam, Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe,’ comes on:
The Army’s legendary 10th Mountain Division was constituted as the 10th Light Division (Alpine) on July 10, 1943. Five days later, the division was activated at Camp Hale, Colorado. When the troops weren’t conducting specialized winter training, they often made up songs to entertain themselves around campfires and in the barracks. One of the most popular songs that spread across the division was “90 Pounds of Rucksack.”
Soldiers brought the song with them to Europe during WWII. Even after the war, it remained a popular tune for the legacy ski troops. “The original song is a huge part of the World War II generation – they sang it at all the 10th Mountain Division reunions and get-togethers,” said 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum director Sepp Scanlin. “There was even an album made of their ski songs during the war. The descendants group is also well familiar with the song from their fathers’ time at reunions and trips back to Italy.”
Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division Band recorded a modern version of the classic song for the 21st century. The performance pays homage to 10th Mountain soldiers both past and present. The new lyrics and barbershop quartet arrangement are the work of Cpl. Nicholas Smith. “I had personally never arranged in this style before, but I was familiar enough with what it was so I only had to do a little bit of research and studying on it before getting to work on the arrangement,” Smith said. “I really enjoyed the process. It was a fun way to improve my skills in composition and arranging.”
The new version of “90 Pounds of Rucksack” was performed by Sgt. Benjamin Garnett, Sgt. Jeremy Gorman, Spc. Alexus Monroe and Spc. Toney Williams. The video was produced by Spc. Pierre Osias of the 27th Public Affairs Detachment.
“It exceeded my wildest expectations,” Scanlin said of the new version. “It kept the tune and the spirit of the original, but the new lyrics pay tribute to the WWII generation while still highlighting what it means to be a 10th Mountain Division Soldier today. They all did an incredible job.”
Two more videos are in the works. They will culminate with a concert later in 2021. “What we want to do with both the videos and the concert is to honor the spirit of the 10th Mountain Division, and bridge the gap between the proud lineage and service of those World War II Soldiers who served in the division and the modern light infantry Soldiers that are currently here,” said 10th Mountain Division Band public affairs NCO and trombone player Staff Sgt. Robert Carmical. “That’s a fundamental part of our mission – to capture the spirit of the fighting men and women who we serve and then share that with the community both on and off post.
Montana is a musician with a “rip-roaring, swamp’rockin’ vibe” — and he’s just getting started. He maintains a can’t-quit attitude that has lifted him from obscurity to Rolling Stone magazine. On one New Year’s Eve, an industry executive told Montana he’d never write a hit on his own. That night, he skipped the celebrations and wrote Low Class, just to prove the guy wrong.
Tim Montana makes his network television debut on Letterman | YouTube
In his youth, Montana had hoped to become a SEAL himself, but an injury prevented him from serving. His patriotism and support for the military, however, never faded (he says we’re all red, white, and blue-blooded). After Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was killed, Montana discovered there would be a Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit and Auction in Fort Worth, Texas. He immediately picked up the phone and volunteered to play for free.
He took it one step further and teamed up with Gibson to auction off a custom Chris Kyle Commemorative Les Paul Standard Special. It sold for $117,500.
So yeah, the guy makes sh*t happen.
And he’s chosen to use music to make his mark. He told We Are The Mighty there’s no way to know what music can do, but it’s cool to think about the possibilities.
“Music evokes emotion. It evokes thought. It captures a moment.”
He maintained his connection with Rob O’Neill, and featured the SEAL in his latest music video for Hillbilly Rich. Check it out:
Summer’s officially here, the BBQ is hot, the beer is cold, and it’s time to party. Old Glory is still soaring from when we honored Memorial Day, but now we have a holiday where the only requirement is to celebrate.
It’s the 4th of July.
If you’re gonna have an epic party, you need an epic playlist. These tunes will light some fireworks in your soul. Enjoy.
9. Team America World Police — “America F*#k Yeah!”
I LOVE THIS SONG EVERY TIME I HEAR IT.
8. Tom Petty — “American Girl”
A good party playlist should rise and fall. Tom Petty and his ode to the American Girl can keep things calm for a few.
7. Bruce Springsteen — “Born in the USA”
This is a classic and cannot be omitted. Let it happen.
6. Lenny Kravitz — “American Woman”
This makes every woman, including yours truly, want to lose some layers and show off her moves. You’re welcome.
5. Iced Earth “Declaration Day”
Sometimes you just need to say it with metal: “Freedom is not free.”
4. Katy Perry — “Firework”
This song is catchy as hell and you know it.
3. Brad Paisley — “American Saturday Night”
You had me at French kissing and a cooler of cold Coronas.
Not only was Houston’s voice absolute perfection, when she recorded this song, she donated the proceeds of the single to benefit the veterans of the Persian Gulf War. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, she re-released it, this time donating her profits to the firefighters and victims of the attacks.
For those of you who are out there continuing to fight for the freedoms we cherish, you have our gratitude. Stay safe.
When I was speaking at a university a few years ago, a student who DJ’d at the local college radio station and had read my book asked me to come on as a guest. He had me put together a list of music I listened to in Iraq, and then interviewed me between songs. It was a really cool experience for me to revisit my deployment through music.
This isn’t limited to my time in Iraq, but is evocative of both my deployment and homecoming. Here it is:
1. Live, “Mental Jewelry”
I started listening to Live in high school and have fond memories of seeing them play. For some reason, the lyrics came into my mind often in Iraq, always making me feel a little melancholy.
2. Bad Religion, “The Process of Belief”
This album came out while I was at DLI, and I listened to it throughout the summer of 2002 while I was at AIT in Texas. Once we got to Iraq, this song in particular made me ache.
3. “Story of My Life,” Social Distortion, Social Distortion
This is one of my favorite albums. Went to see them play in Dallas the summer of 2002 – and spent the whole time feeling a little alienated from civilians. As for this particular song, I left my hometown when I was 15, and every time I’ve gone back have felt that weird sensation of my old neighborhood not being the same. That got even stronger after I joined the Army. I like how this song captures a particular feeling of frustration.
4. “So What,” Ministry, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste
I was angry as a teenager, and spent a lot of time angry while I was in the Army, too. This is a great song to be really pissed off to. (Random aside: I saw the movie this song has samples from on Mystery Science Theater 3000 once, which was awesome. It’s totally absurd, you should check it out: The Violent Years.)
5. “Holiday in Cambodia,” Dead Kennedys
So there isn’t a lot of DK on Spotify that I could find. The song I wanted to put was “Life Sentence” (the lyrics “you don’t do what you want to but you do the same thing every day” could describe half my time in the Army!), but this is a good one, too. Fits in with the theme of anger.
6. “Jaded,” Operation Ivy,” Operation Ivy
As angry as I got, I never gave up those hopeful kernels, and still clung to that conviction that I could make the world a better place. “Sound System” is another good one off that album, about how music can bring you back up when you feel shitty.
7. “Cactus,” Pixies, Surfer Rosa
I have no idea why this particular Pixies song is the one that I got totally fixated on in Iraq. The mention of the desert? Who knows.
8. “Then She Did,” Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual
When I was younger and, um, enjoyed experimenting with mind-altering substances, the song “Three Days” was what I loved the most – it took me on this whole mental odyssey. But in Iraq I fell in love with this one, a more reserved and introspective one.
9. “In the Arms of Sleep,” The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
I would listen to this one over and over and over in Iraq, longing to … be there, have those feelings.
10. “I Know, Huh?,” The Vandals, Hitler Bad, Vandals Good
This reminds me of the giddy, heady, happy days of being just home from Iraq, before the bad parts of reintegration kicked in. I have memories of driving around with Zoe singing along with this, being goofy and ridiculous.
11. “8 Mile,” Eminem, 8 Mile
When things started to get really shitty, I would listen to this song (oh, so cheesy! I know!) and tell myself I could push on for just a little longer and couldn’t give up.
Love letters from girls back at home are colloquially known as “Dear John” letters…but they’re not always true. In 1972, Jim Croce released “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels),” a song about a one-sided conversation with a telephone operator. The singer is trying to find an old flame who seems to have run off to Los Angeles on a tryst with his old friend. The caller expresses his disbelief at being betrayed by someone he once trusted. It’s an all-too-common story, especially among those serving in the military — Jody ran off with the singer’s girl.
In fact, Jody is exactly what inspired Croce to write the song, except it wasn’t about his old flame, it was about everybody else’s on the base where he was stationed, back in the days when a phone call cost a dime.
Operator, well could you help me place this call? See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded She’s living in L.A. with my best old ex-friend Ray A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated
Croce enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1966 with hopes of being able to avoid active service and a potential trip to Vietnam. He ended up serving on active duty for a few months, having to go through basic military training two times. Explaining that he was not good with authority, he once said he would be totally prepared if he “had to go to war with a mop.”
Still, he had a unique experience in the Army, one he probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Some years later, his wife relayed the story of Jim waiting in the rain at the Post Exchange, listening to soldiers make calls on the payphones. He would overhear many, many “Dear John” stories as the soldiers called their ex-lovers to find out if the fateful letters they’d received were serious.
Jim and Ingrid Croce during Jim’s Army service.
Croce, who died in 1973, remarked:
There wasn’t a phone booth; it was just stuck up on the side of the building and there were about 200 guys in each line waiting to make a phone call back home to see if their ‘Dear John’ letter was true, and with their raincoat over their heads covering the telephone and everything, and it really seemed that so many people were going through the same experience, going through the same kind of change, and to see this happen, especially on something like the telephone and talking to a long-distance operator, this kinda registered.
Later, after Croce left the military, he worked in a bar and noticed the same phenomenon happening at the bar’s payphone. People always wanted to check up on someone but end up talking to the operator.
By the end of the song, the caller tells the operator he’s over the whole thing, but it’s clear that the caller isn’t. After all, nothing is going to change in one phone call. Jody worked fast, even in 1972.
UPDATE: THE VOTING IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON MONDAY, SEPT. 25, 2017 AT WE ARE THE MIGHTY!
Welcome to the finals for Mission: Music, where veterans from all five branches compete for a chance to perform onstage at Base*FEST powered by USAA. CLICK THE BUTTON BELOW TO VOTE every day to determine the winner!
Bobby Blackhat is a Coastal Virginia Bluesman and an award-winning recording artist, harmonica player, vocalist, songwriter, producer, comedian, and actor. He’s been playing harp for over 40 years.
After 27 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard, which included serving as Military Aide to the President and being awarded the Coast Guard Medal for Heroism, Bobby started to pursue music professionally. He is a proud graduate of two Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) programs: Piano and Comedy Bootcamp.
“I love doing what I do because music allows me to get fingers poppin’, toes tappin’, hip shakin’, and faces smilin’. Through music I can bring joy and happiness to the lives of others. I am a prime example that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams and check an item off that pesky bucket list.”
For every vote, USAA will donate $1 (up to $10k) to Guitars for Vets, a non-profit organization that enhances lives of ailing and injured military veterans by providing them with guitars and a forum to learn how to play. Your votes help those who served rediscover their joy through the power of music!
While marching toward the enemy, the armies of the ancient Greek city states would sing paeans to the God Apollo in unison. It was an homage to their god, inspired the Greek hoplites to fight, but also was intimidating to the enemy. It also helped the tight, packed formations typical of hoplite warfare keep time in their march.
In a similar way, music played a vital role after the musket was introduced to the battlefield in the 16th century. The weapons were relatively inaccurate and short-ranged, and the concept of massed coordinated volley fire was needed to make them effective in the open-field engagements of the time.
Drums, flutes, and bugles were all used to issue commands over the noise of battle, as well as helping large groups of soldiers keep their ranks as they marched and maneuvered. Young boys were often used for the role, and they could face dangers as great as any of the regular soldiers. More conventional bands were used to entertain troops during the Civil War, often even on the front lines.
Two weeks ago, the House passed legislation that would ban military bands from performing at social functions other than formal military ceremonies and funerals to help cut defense spending.
The Defense Department spent $437 million in Fiscal Year 2015 on “musicians, instruments, uniforms and travel expenses,” according to Stars Stripes.
“For every dollar that is spent on our bands to entertain at social functions, that’s a dollar we’re not spending on national security and on our troops and our families,” said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, a retired Air Force colonel who sponsored the bill.
The Army currently has 99 bands, the Air Force has 15 bands, the Marine Corps has 12 bands, and the Navy has 11, according to Politico. The bill now heads to the Senate.
The history of military bands is long and storied.
Though bands had played varying roles since the Revolutionary War, it was Army Gen. John Pershing during World War I who set the stage for the military’s current band system after seeing the much more elaborate European army bands in action. He believed the bands to be essential to troop morale and set up a formal training system in place of what was previously fairly ad hoc, greatly expanding regimental bands.
Though by World War II such use of music on the battlefield had largely been abandoned, there were still some examples, if far more eccentric ones. The famed British commando ‘Mad’ Jack Churchill, who clearly had a taste for older styles of warfare, would go into action playing bagpipes to inspire his men while carrying a Scottish broadsword and a longbow. The Soviet Union was known to play patriotic music before it’s troops charged as well.
In modern warfare, however, military bands are seen more and more as an anachronism used for strictly ceremonial purposes, and are confined to the parade ground rather than the battlefield.
It’s been a long time since military bands performed in combat. In an era of tighter budgets and ever more modern warfare, it’s clear Congress is beginning to see military bands more as a frivolity than a necessity.
The bands were generally raised just before the units they would serve. Some were contracted by state legislatures and others by officers in units they had begun enlisting.
The initial purpose of the band was to help get attention of potential enlistees as a sort of marketing campaign.
When the units began training and later deploying, the bands would help keep morale up and sometimes assist with music for drills.
But when the units took to the field, there were generally few uses for a full brass band in the middle of combat. Some were ordered to play music in the middle of the fray, like when a Confederate band played during the Battle of Gettysburg and men on both sides heard the music.
Some musicians became runners, carrying messages as the bullets flew. But most were sent to remove the wounded.
I put some considerable value on the service of the band in the several affairs the regiment was engaged in as an Ambulance Corps. . . . The mere fact of one member of the band being twice required to cross the line of fire of both forces, undoubtedly saved the lives of several members of our own regiment from the fire of one of our own batteries, several members of our own regiment having already been killed by the unfortunately located battery. . . . The bandsmen had been well taught by the surgeon how to give first aid to the wounded, and how to use stretchers, bandages and tourniquets. We were to go with the regiment into battle, rescue the wounded, if possible, and carry them to the field hospital. We were liable to be sent as messengers on dangerous errands.
In 1862, Congress passed a bill to muster out nearly all regimental bands, leaving some at the corps and brigade levels as well as drummers, buglers, and fifers in the companies.
Unsurprisingly since many of the men had worked in battles like Whitcomb’s, they were happy to take their last paychecks and leave.