The death of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega brings back memories of the dictator’s last hours of freedom. U.S. special operators tried to force his surrender using loud rock music — music now gathered together on two handy Spotify playlists.
Instead of storming a building owned by a neutral, noncombatant foreign power, the Navy SEALs and Delta Force operators developed Operation Nifty Package. It was a psyops mission, designed to force Noriega to rescind his right of asylum in the Vatican-owned Embassy.
When Pope John Paul II refused to comment on the incident and the Papal Nuncio wouldn’t force the dictator to leave, the U.S. Army Psychological Operations Command began to blare a “Rock n’ Roll Assault on Noriega…for three full days.
Noriega was captured and sent to Miami where he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for drug and money laundering charges. He was extradited to France in 2010 to stand trial for money laundering there. Noriega was then extradited to Panama the next year to finish his sentences for the disappearances of political prisoners in the 1980s.
The military is getting into the music video business more and more lately. The Air Force caught a little flak for the video they put together, “American Airman,” featuring one of its bands, Max Impact — mostly because it looks like it cost more than the entire Marine Corps. They even went on to make more music videos.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army has been in the game all along with its band, called “Pershing’s Own,” and its many iterations — the most notable of which is a bluegrass cover band, dubbed ” “Six-String Soldiers.”
Military members and veterans had a field day when they discovered the Air Force’s Max Impact Band and their highly produced music video but it turns out the Army has a few touring bands of its own – all part of the United States Army Field Band.
The Army fields a number of official touring bands, all comprised of active soldiers. But the members of the U.S. Army’s Field Band are considered “The Musical Ambassadors of the Army,” going around to play for civilians and military installations alike. The unit has four touring sub-bands: The Concert Band, The Soldiers’ Chorus, the Jazz Ambassadors, and the Six-String Soldiers — its bluegrass-country cover band.
The “Six-String Soldiers” were “The Volunteers” — a rock cover band — until a few short years ago; they now no longer perform rock music (but you can still listen to their old cover songs on their SoundCloud page).
(U.S. Army photo)
The Volunteers seamlessly transitioned between rock, pop, and country music from all decades. The band was as old as the concept of an all-volunteer force, formed in 1981, just a few years after the draft disappeared from daily American life. Like most cover bands (presumably), The Volunteers wanted to one day perform their own original material for audiences. They never got the chance, but the Six String Soldiers keep their spirit alive and well.
These days you can find all of the Army’s versatile musical soldiers performing on military bases, at VA hospitals, music festivals, and special events. They aren’t limited to the military-veteran community – that’s the whole point of their mission. They want to reach out to the public and show the diversity and vast scope of the U.S. Army.
Give a listen to The Six-String Soldiers cover Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” in the video below.
Jimi Hendrix, one of rock’s greatest guitar players, served a brief thirteen-month stint with the famed U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division — nicknamed the “Screaming Eagles” — just a few years before his meteoric rise to rock stardom in the late 60s.
On May 13, 1961, James Marshall Hendrix swore to support and defend the Constitution as a member of the U.S. Army — it was the alternative to serving time in jail on a stolen car charge.
Jimi Hendrix at the amusement park Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden, May 24, 1967. (Original photographer unknown)
Hendrix wanted to enlist as a musician but had no formal music training, so he opted for the 101st Airborne Division.
“Well Dad, here I am exactly where I wanted to go in the 101st Airborne,” Hendrix wrote home.
As we know, base life can often be a drag, and Hendrix was homesick for his guitar.
“P.S. Please send my guitar as soon as you can. I really need it now,” he requested of his father, Al Hendrix.
Months after joining the Screaming Eagles, life as a paratrooper began to wear on Hendrix’s morale. He was constantly getting reprimanded for dereliction of duties.
Jimi just wanted to play his guitar. His days as a paratrooper came to an end on his 26th jump when he broke his ankle.
Hendrix began exploring the Fort Campbell area nightlife. He played at places like the Pink Poodle with a group called The Bonnevilles.
Hendrix then ventured down to nearby Nashville where he began jamming with local bluesman at places like The Del Morocco on Jefferson Street and venues along Printer’s Alley.
It was in that vibrant music scene where he met fellow servicemember and bassist Billy Cox. In September 1963, after Cox was discharged from the Army, Hendrix and Cox formed a band called the King Kasuals.
Hendrix and Cox played around Nashville and continued to hone their music. There’s a rare video from a local TV station of Hendrix playing guitar for Little Richard’s ensemble act, Buddy Stacy, on Nashville’s WLAC Channel 5 television show, Night Train.
In addition to playing in his own band, Hendrix performed as a backing musician for various soul, RB, and blues musicians including Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, and Jackie Wilson.
It wasn’t until Hendrix ventured up to New York City that he caught the big break that would take him over to England, where he soon became the rock star he is remembered as today.
Jimi Hendrix Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California.
Many think his sonic rendition of our national anthem at Woodstock was an indictment of the Vietnam War.
“We’re all Americans…it was like ‘Go America!’ We play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static, see…” Hendrix explained of his interpretation several weeks after Woodstock.
On April 10, 2021, Brantley Gilbert took time away from preparing for the Academy of Country Music Awards to be with three military families. To him, they are the real stars.
The virtual event was organized through a partnership with Operation Teammate, a nonprofit organization run by Air Force veteran Timothy Montjoy. When asked why it was important to him to take part in, Brantley was direct. “Service men and service women are heroes and I believe the families they leave behind in order to serve are the unsung heroes,” he explained. “They’re also making sacrifices to ensure our health and safety. I wanted to make sure they knew that we appreciate them just as much as we appreciate those in the uniform.”
Brantley’s grandfather and uncles all served in the Armed Forces, leaving a deeply ingrained appreciation and respect for the military. In fact, he and his wife regularly work with the Atlanta Humane Society to place service animals with veterans in need. When the opportunity to sit down with military families came up, Brantley said it was the least he could do.
Every April is dedicated to military children, who are often forgotten in the everyday struggles that military families face. Originally dedicated in 1986, it’s taken on a new life in recent years. Numerous studies have been conducted on the mental health impacts of America’s children of service members which have all demonstrated the need for more resources and organizations. It’s a fact that Montjoy was keenly aware of.
Operation Teammate was established in 2015 with the goal of showing children the benefits of being a part of a team and utilizing sports in their lives. For Montjoy, who had become a single dad after returning home from his last deployment, it was personal. “As my daughter and I grew up in the Air Force together, there were times where I would have to be away from her for extended periods of time and we recognized the need for more direct support during that time of separation for military children,” he explained.
Montjoy saw the need for something like this not just for his military child, but all of them. The beauty of this organization is that it’s one team that follows the military child wherever they go, an anchor in an uncertain and always-changing lifestyle. “The goal of our experiences is for the attending military children to learn from the success journeys of the community influencer and to be inspired to find their own path in life,” said Montjoy.
One of the goals of each event is to show military kids that they are seen and valued. “Mr. Brantley Gilbert clearly understands the sacrifices that military children go through and our event with Brantley resulted in our attending military children understanding that someone of influence appreciates and supports them 100 percent,” Montjoy shared.
The virtual event with Brantley had children from all ages and brought a lot of laughs, especially when he was told he was too old for jiu jitsu. “There were some great personalities in that group,” he said.
Humor and fun aside, sitting down with the military children really hit home for Brantley. “I have two kids of my own and I often leave them for days or weeks at a time on tour, and I know how much I miss them. And I know that’s incomparable to what these families go through,” he explained. “Being a military family is what I consider to be one of the biggest sacrifices you can make, and the least I can do is let them know they’re appreciated and supported.”
Though Brantley may assume what he did was small, it wasn’t. For kids and military children especially, being seen and valued can and is life-changing. “I hoped to let them know that we see everything that they go through and we’re grateful for them being so strong, being away from their mom or dad or sibling is a difficult thing to do,” he said. “I wanted to let them know that I have their back and I’d love to support them in any way that I can as a thank you.”
Montjoy echoed that sentiment. “While our experiences show appreciation to military children for their life of service, being able to provide a fun and interactive experience is the biggest reward,” he stated. “The smiles and excitement that the attending military children display, drives home that our experiences continue to have a lasting impact and inspire our military children to lead a positive life.”
Typically, the role of “Doc” in the convoy is as a passenger. While remaining alert and attentive, I also felt that I needed to keep my unit motivated and focused while they did their various jobs.
I took the task very seriously by acting as the Convoy DJ, playing the greatest hits for combat effectiveness!
Whether you cue up your own playlist for leaving the wire or DJ for the entire crew, stepping off is always better with an anthem.
Here are 8 tracks to help “kick the tires and light the fires.”
1. AC/DC — Highway to Hell
No convoy playlist is complete without a track from these rock Gods ripping through the airwaves. AC/DC has plenty of great hits to choose from, however, this song really says exactly how I felt about the roads we traveled in Iraq.
Perhaps it’s a little on the nose, but if you deployed to Iraq this song needs no explanation. All other lyrics aside, you can’t pass on a track with the refrain, “Bombs over Baghdad!” to really pump up that mission essential adrenaline.
You’ve got F/18s launching from an aircraft carrier, Navy SEALs on fast boats, guys jumping out of a helicopter into the surf — now add a wailing guitar riff and a pulsating drum beat and you have the ingredients for a Navy commercial that almost had me signing up for another 10 years.
You’ve also got an epic anthem to keep the troops pumped on those exceptionally long convoys.
(GodsmackVEVO | YouTube)Even if you’re no longer jocking up and taking the wheel of some Mad Max-esque war machine to go spread freedom and democracy around the world, you can still rock out to these amazing songs.
Every convoy needs some musical motivation. Whether you’re taking the kiddos to school, enjoying a leisurely Sunday drive or simply heading into the office for another day of crushing it, cue up this playlist and have an epic journey.
In 1987, singer David Bowie played a concert in West Berlin, near the Reichstag. The performance was so loud, a massive crowd gathered on the East side of the nearby Berlin Wall to better hear his performance. He could hear the East Germans behind the Iron Curtain, singing along.
At the time, he didn’t know it would be the catalyst for the beginning of the end the city’s crushing divide.
The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to keep East Berliners (and all East Germans) inside East Germany. It certainly wasn’t needed to keep Western citizens out. It quickly became a symbol of the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe, the barrier between East and West that kept one side subject to the oppression of forced Communism and the other a burgeoning society of freedom and self-governance.
It was in Berlin where Bowie recorded his 1977 album, “Heroes,” a song about two lovers, one from East Berlin and one from the West. Living with punk legend Iggy Pop in the city’s Schöneberg neighborhood, Bowie could walk outside his door and see the tyranny and death that came with living in the heart of the Cold War. The song’s lyrics were so descriptive of the city’s plight, it became one of Berlin’s anthems:
I, I can remember (I remember) Standing, by the wall (by the wall) And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads) And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall) And the shame, was on the other side Oh we can beat them, forever and ever Then we could be heroes, just for one day
70,000 Germans attended the 1987 Concert for Berlin.
The artists spent years in Berlin recording his albums “Low” and “Lodger,” along with “Heroes.” Today, they’re referred to as Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy.” A decade after recording “Heroes,” Bowie returned to Berlin as part of the Concert for Berlin, a three-day festival held near the Reichstag, the seat of West Germany’s parliament. Nearby was the Brandenburg Gate and, running through it, the notorious Berlin Wall. The music, forbidden in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) rang out loudly in the West, and wafted over the wall.
Along with Bowie came Eurythmics, Genesis, and Bruce Hornsby. Thousands of East Berliners began to crowd the area near the gate, trying to get an earful as East German guards fought them back, dragging them away from the area and arresting the unruly. If they couldn’t listen near the wall, they could listen over the airwaves. The radio station Radio in the American Sector broadcast the concert in its entirety throughout the city, with the blessings of the artists and recording labels.
“It was like a double concert where the wall was the division,” Bowie told The Atlantic. “And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did ‘Heroes’ it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer.”
Eventually, the crowd broke into a full-on chant of, “the wall must fall!” and “Gorby, get us out!” When the concert ended on the third night, the East German police beat back the crowd with billy clubs. Even though Bowie headlined the second night, it’s believed his performance attracted more East Berliners to the wall the next night. It was the overreaction from the East Berlin police that turned so many residents against the regime. It completely changed the mood of the city, which would only be divided for two years longer before frustrations overwhelmed the wall.
“The title song of the ‘Heroes’ album is one of Bowie’s best-known works and became the hymn of our then-divided city and its yearning for freedom,” said Berlin Mayor Michael Müller. “With this song, Bowie has not only set musical standards, but also unmistakably expressed his attachment to our city.”
Bowie played Berlin again in 1989, after the wall fell and the city was united. His last show in Berlin was in 2004. When Bowie died in 2016, the German government officially thanked him for bringing the wall down and unifying a divided Germany.
Dropping an album on iTunes in 2017 is a far cry from releasing a single on vinyl in 1936, but at least one person has done both. Vera Lynn, the acclaimed singer of pop standards, from “We’ll Meet Again” to “The White Cliffs of Dover,” entertained Allied troops from England to Burma, but also sang at the Diamond Jubilee anniversary celebration of Victory in Europe Day in 2005.
Her long, storied career began with her being dubbed “The Forces’ Sweetheart” and is still ongoing, as Vera Lynn also is the oldest living musical artist to make it to number one on the British music charts. And while she may be more of a big deal in the UK, American military aficionados have most definitely heard her voice.
Lynn supporting British troops in World War II.
During World War II, Lynn had her own BBC music show, Sincerely Yours. As the Forces’ Sweetheart, it was an instant hit with Britain’s fighting men. Lynn, determined to do her duty as the rest of Britain was doing in WWII, deployed to support the troops in places like Egypt, India, and Burma.
Like many of the greatest generation, she took the deployment with a stiff upper lip, recalling that she stayed in dirt and grass huts, using a bucket of water to clean herself in those remote locations. She never charged the government a dime for her effort. She even criticized former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, who performed for UK troops in Oman in 2001. Halliwell demanded a fridge full of soy milk for her performance and was paid “tens of thousands of pounds” by the Ministry of Defence.
“She’s lucky to be somewhere there is a fridge,” Lynn told The Guardian. “If she can’t give up her time free for troops who are there to defend her and her way of life, that is very sad.”
Jenkins supporting British troops in Iraq.
Of course, even the most striking rendition of “The White Cliffs of Dover” isn’t going to draw a crowd of 18-25 year old service members these days. Dame Vera Lynn spent her postwar career still supporting the troops, lending her voice to the 1970s documentary, The World at War.
At the 60th Anniversary of VE Day, Lynn passed the mantle of “Forces’ Sweetheart” to Welsh Singer Katherine Jenkins, who was singing a rendition of “We’ll Meet Again” when she pulled Lynn onstage to duet for a few bars. Jenkins promised to go entertain British troops deployed to Iraq — and Jenkins did the very next year.
Dame Vera Lynn is 101 years old as of 2018, but she just released two albums the last year, and is the only centenarian to have an album top the charts. She beat out Bob Dylan as the oldest artist to chart in the UK and beat both the Arctic Monkeys and the Beatles in the pop charts that year.
Vera Lynn 100 and Her Greatest From Abbey Road were released in 2017, the latter containing previously unreleased recordings of Lynn in her prime.
Bradley arrived in country on Veteran’s Day, 1970 and would spend exactly 365 days there. He and Werner, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, interviewed hundreds of Bradley’s fellow veterans to find out which songs impacted them most during their time in Vietnam — and stayed with them after.
While many of the vets were tight-lipped with their combat experiences, they were very forthcoming about their musical recollections. Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” “My Girl” by the Temptations, Blood Sweat and Tears’ “And When I Die,” “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, and, for Bradley himself, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown.”
The authors compiled the Vietnam generation of veterans’ favorite songs into a reflection of how the music affected the troops who fought there and how it affects them to this day.
The legendary rock band Kiss is known for their makeup, over-the-top stage show, and hits like “Rock ‘n Roll All Night” and “Detroit Rock City.”
They aren’t known as historians, although two of the band’s members — Gene Simmons and Tommy Thayer — have remarkable stories to tell about what their families went through during World War II. And equally remarkable is how these stories link the two members of Kiss to each other.
Backstage at a Kiss concert in northern Virginia in late July, lead guitarist Tommy Thayer talked about his father’s military service. James B. Thayer retired as a brigadier general in the mid-60s, but in 1945 he was an first lieutenant in charge of an anti-tank mine reconnaissance platoon that made its way across France into southern Germany. The unit saw a lot of action, including battles with Waffen SS troops – among the Third Reich’s most elite fighters – that involved bloody hand-to-hand combat.
As the platoon made its way farther south they stumbled upon the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. “The SS had just fled,” Tommy Thayer said. “They left behind 15,000 Hungarian-Jewish refugees who were in bad shape.”
Ironically enough, based on time and location, among the refugees that U.S. Army Lieutenant Thayer liberated was most likely a family from Budapest that included a teenage girl who would later give birth Gene Simmons, Kiss’ outspoken bassist and co-founder.
“My mother was 14-years-old when they took her to the camps of Nazi Germany,” Simmons explained. “If it wasn’t for America, for those who served during World War Two like James Thayer, I wouldn’t be here.”
As a result of this connection, the band has thrown its clout behind the Oregon Military Museum, which will be named in honor of the now 93-year-old Brigadier General Thayer. Tommy Thayer is on the museum’s board, and the band recently played at a private residence in the greater Portland area to raise money and awareness for the effort.
“The idea that Americans enjoy the kind of life that the rest of the world is envious of is made possible – not by politicians – but by the brave men and women of our military,” Simmons said. “The least we could do is have a museum.”
“There is evil being done all over the world,” Simmons said. “And the only thing that keeps the world from falling into complete chaos is our military.”
Beyond supporting the Oregon Military Museum, in the years since 9-11, Simmons has worked as a military veteran advocate. Among some of his more high-profile efforts is the band’s hiring of veterans to work as roadies for Kiss on tour.
While other celebrity vet charities could rightly be criticized as something between Boomer guilt and vanity projects, the bass guitarist’s desire to help vets is fueled by what his mother’s side of the family went through to make it to America a generation ago.
Simmons has a few things to say about national pride, something he thinks the country has lost a measure of.
“When I first came to America as an eight-year-old boy people were quiet when the flag was raised,” Simmons said. “We all stood still.”
To Simmons’ eye that respect is lacking in too many Americans now, particularly younger Americans who are surrounded by information and media but may not appreciate the relationship between history and their daily lives.
“Just stop yakking for at least one minute,” he said. “The rest of the day is all yours to enjoy all the benefits that the American flag gives you.”
Nothing makes a war movie pop like its soundtrack. Films that are scored by famous composers stay with us forever. Hans Zimmer did “Black Hawk Down,” “Saving Private Ryan,” was scored by John Williams, and of course, the most famous war film score ever, Maurice Jarre’s work for the WWI epic “Lawrence of Arabia.”
But not every war movie needs to be scored. There are a few movies where a well-placed pop song is an epic use of screen time. When a director uses a “needle drop,” it can push the scene into something unforgettable.
1. “What A Wonderful World” from “Good Morning Vietnam”
In a movie full of great music and memorable scenes, how do you even choose the most poignant? Barry Levinson’s 1987 film juxtaposes Louis Armstrong’s classic song with imagery of the men fighting the war, the civilians caught in the middle, and the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime.
2. “Danger Zone” from “Top Gun”
No opening sequence starts a movie better than the song that keeps Kenny Loggins in the money to this day. The Navy even used this movie as recruiting tool, with a full 90 percent of applicants reporting that they’d seen “Top Gun” the year it came out.
3. “The End” from “Apocalypse Now”
Did I say “Top Gun” has the best opening scene song? It has to compete with the first shots of “Apocalypse Now,” featuring the Doors’ “The End”.
4. “Tracks of My Tears” from “Platoon”
Charlie Sheen gives us a stark vision of his future, jamming with his friends to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ 1965 hit, smoking all manner of things while knocking back a few beers. This scene is just as iconic as the Sgt. Elias death scene or the end of the movie, where Sheen’s character looks back on his tour.
The Trashmen’s 1963 song “Surfin’ Bird” dominates as the Americans push the NVA back from Hué City.
6. “Do Wah Diddy” from “Stripes”
I think the YouTube commenter Brian Buchanan said it best about this scene from the Bill Murray and Harold Ramis comedy “Stripes” — “Funny scene, but these two morons would be doing push up ’til they died.”
7. “Dream Lover” from “Hot Shots”
Yeah, “Hot Shots” isn’t a real war movie in the sense that anything really happened but you can say that about “The Hurt Locker” too. Even so, I’ll never forget when Topper Harley sees Ramada Rodham Hayman for the first time.
“I was really impressed with the way you handled that stallion. You know, when I saw you dig your heels into his sides, tighten up the reigns, and break his spirit, I never wanted to be a horse so much in my life.”
8. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” from “Top Gun”
If this movie and Kenny Loggins prompted a bunch of people to join the Navy, I wonder how many late-80s women had to put up with guys singing to them in bars until the fall of Communism.
9. “Sgt. Mackenzie” from “We Were Soldiers”
While not technically a pop song, this song was written about the singer’s grandfather’s service in WWI and is undeniably awesome. Awesome. Awesome.