YOU VOTED AND THE RESULTS ARE IN! CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR MISSION: MUSIC WINNER, BOBBY “BLACKHAT” WALTERS!!
Bobby is a Coastal Virginia Bluesman and an award-winning recording artist, harmonica player, vocalist, songwriter, producer, comedian, and actor. He’s also 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.”
Thanks to everyone who voted, USAA will donate $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 helped those who served rediscover their joy through the power of music!
Songs have a way of telling the story of someone’s life. I feel like these songs describe what I’ve been through in one way or another, from childhood until now. I grew up listening to different genres. As A young kid, I would sing ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia” with my twin brother. In college, I remember listening to a lot of Ice Cube. Later on, I returned to hard rock, jocking up to AC/DC and Metallica with the SEAL teams. And now, I’m singing along to Justin Timberlake with my kids on the way to drop them off at school. —Marcus Luttrell, retired Navy SEAL.
We listened to all 25 songs on his list and picked out the 13 we feel capture his badassery.
But music has been a part of war for a long time. Horns, buglers, and drummers sounded orders for entire armies from the Classical era until as late as the Korean War. Even in psychological operations, the use of music is not a novelty – Joshua is said to have used horns as a weapon when he captured Jericho.
So from biblical times to post-9/11, here are few contemporary examples of armies using music against the enemy.
1. Metallica, “Enter Sandman” – Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Among these were Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You” song, “Bodies” by the band Drowning Pool, and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
“Part of me is proud because they chose Metallica,” frontman James Hetfield said in an interview with 3SAT, a German media outlet. “And part of me is bummed that people worry about us being attached to some political statement because of that… politics and music for us don’t mix.”
2. 4Minute, “HUH (Hit Your Heart)” – Korean DMZ
The main feature of the Korean Demilitarized Zone are the thousands of North and South Korean (and U.S.) troops literally staring each other down, daring each other to try something cute. It’s an intense area and you can cut through the tension with a knife. Each has tried a number of “cute” things to irk the others, including fake cities, propaganda billboards, and ax murders. In 2010, the weapon of choice became Korean pop music.
When North Korea sunk the South Korean warship Cheonan that year, The South responded by blasting propaganda messages across the border using 11 enormous loudspeakers aligned in the DMZ. They also used the song “HUH (Hit Your Heart)” by the Kpop group 4Minute, over and over. It got to be so much that the North threatened to turn Seoul into a “Sea of Flame” if the music didn’t stop.
3. Britney Spears, “Oops! I Did It Again” – Horn of Africa
By 2013, the Somali pirate fleet operating in the Horn of Africa was such a problem, the UK’s Royal Navy had 14 warships on alert in the area. Attacks have decreased since then, thanks to increased attention by international naval patrols. But there are a few merchant mariners who think Britney Spears might have had a hand in it as well.
“They’re so effective the ship’s security rarely needs to resort to firing guns,” one merchant told the Mirror. “As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney they move on as quickly as they can.”
4. Martha and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run” – Operation Just Cause
In December 1989, the United States invaded Panama after its leader Gen. Manuel Noriega discarded the results of a national election and Panamanian troops killed a U.S. Marine and wounded another. American troops were sent to safeguard its citizens lives, enforce the election results, and capture and extradite Noriega to the United States.
Troops make overly-hardcore videos during their deployments to showcase the badassery of military life. Absolutely nothing wrong with that — we all do it. The thing is, whenever we push the footage over to combat camera to make it into a video for YouTube, we always choose the same songs, over and over again.
We get it, you stacked bodies, so you want to make the song about how grunt you and your boys were to the tune of “Bodies” by Drowning Pool. Great song! It’s just way too overused considering the millions of other songs there are to chose from.
Choosing a great song for an awesome video requires a few things: A high-octane feel, a decent length (preferably over four minutes), a meaning behind the song, and it has to be something that hasn’t been used in every other deployment video.
Did you and your platoon not get the chance to step outside the wire, but you still want to pretend like you’re hard as f*ck? As if you guys needed to watch the whole world die from a good, safe distance? We’ve got the perfect for the POGs who want to pretend they’re badasses.
Plus, the song is too good for anyone to realize you sat on the FOB the entire deployment.
5. Johnny Cash – “The Man Comes Around”
Having a fellow veteran’s song play over your footage is kind of a no-brainer.
The song is about the end of the world told from the perspective of the pale horseman, Death. Very apt for every platoon who nicknames themselves “The Reapers.”
There aren’t hardcore Air Force or Aviation songs to chose from? Bullsh*t.
You probably weren’t experimenting on aliens, but the song can also be applied to badass airmen or MI troops. You know, just without foreign life forms in inventory.
3. Metallica – “Seek and Destroy”
Everyone always opts for a song off of “Ride the Lightning” or the “Black Album.” People tend to sleep on the album that kicked off Metallica’s career.
“Seek and Destroy” makes for one hell of a “hooah” video because it’s literally what grunts do.
2. The Animals – “The House of the Rising Sun”
Let’s be real: this song is basically singing about the struggles every troop faces. A sh*tty upbringing, plenty of alcohol, and thriving in a life of “sin and misery.”
There’re a few versions, so take your pick. The Five Finger Death Punch version may be hardcore, but The Animals’ version is, well, a masterpiece.
1. Pantera – “Cemetery Gates”
Tonally, a lot of the deployment videos are all over the place. It starts off with something high-octane, like “Click, Click, Boom” by Saliva for the convoy helmet videos, then settles into something slow and sweet, like “Crossroad” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, for the memorial piece for our fallen brothers.
“Cemetery Gates” has you covered if you want to go for something awesome for combat footage and somber for the fallen. It’s over seven minutes long, so can fit everything in.
*Bonus* Alice in Chains – “Rooster”
This song is literally about the 101st Airborne Division. And it gets a soft-pass for the number of times it’s been used in some 101st “hooah” videos. But the song is about them, so the real question is… why hasn’t this become over-used yet?
The trombone is an interesting instrument. No, wait! Don’t click away! Seriously, we’re building to a point about the military.
Basically, playing music on the trombone requires two manipulations to produce different notes and patterns.
First, changing the position of the slide. The musician moves their arm closer or further from their body, lengthening or shortening the instrument and producing a different pitch.
Almost more important for producing the proper sounds, though, is how the musician changes the tightness of his or her lips.
Trombone players are actually buzzing into the instrument, not just blowing, and can change the note by tightening or loosening their lips while buzzing (so to speak…).
Neither method is a particularly quick way to change notes when compared to the quick fingerwork of a flute, trumpet, or violin.
That’s what made it so surprising to watch Army band member Sgt. 1st Class Carmen Russo absolutely slay “The Flight of the Bumblebee” three times in a row, each time faster than the last (and played on successively smaller trombones).
“The Flight of the Bumblebee” is a fast-paced, technically challenging song when played at normal speeds on an instrument like the trumpet or flute, making the staff sergeant’s success at high speeds on the trombone all the more impressive.
There are no GIFs or screengrabs that can properly demonstrate what is going on here, so you’ll just have to watch the video. You can jump ahead to 4:10 if you only want to watch the fastest rendition.
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.
Musical instruments have been going to war since humans started gathering large armies — I don’t have an exact date, but I can tell you it was a long, long time ago. But humans have advanced to the point where we no longer require war drums. Instead, one guy from a unit brings a guitar on deployment and plays the same three goddamn power chords for eight months.
Musical instruments really were a necessity in warfare for much of human history. Music wasn’t just used for battlefield intimidation, it was used as a means to communicate orders to troops so they could be heard over the din of old-timey combat. Buglers were the radiomen of their day when it came to battlefield tactics. Drummers kept a marching army on the move. All the musical instruments were morale builders for troops a long way from home.
The legacy of music on the battlefield lives on in the modern-day form of U.S. military bands, like the Marine Corps’ The President’s Own, Today, they are used for ceremonial and morale-building events. Admit it, there would be a lot less interest in some events without the pomp and glory of some well-placed martial music.
It is worth nothing, however, that there is a real hierarchy to musical instruments on the battlefield, depending on which side you’re fighting, how big the instrument is, and the amount of effort it takes to haul it into combat.
And by whistles, I mean the kind lifeguards use to inform you that there’s no running next to the pool. In World War I, officers used whistles to signal a march forward and “over the top” of the trenches and toward the Kaiser. Whistles were used in battles at the Somme, Verdun, and Belleau Wood.
If it seems like a bad idea to use a loud whistle that would alert the enemy (and their machine guns) as you and your mates were coming to inflict pain in the name of the King (or whomever else), you’d be right. A charge across no man’s land was usually a pretty costly affair. The whistle was also used in a number of other ways, like a warning to stay clear of firing artillery.
A good rule of thumb if you ever find yourself in World War I: steer clear of whistles.
It’s safe to say that these are a bit out of tune.
These days, most people associate the harmonica with cowboys, cattle drivin’, rustlers, and wild-west lawmen. But it actually originated much earlier than all that. It gained popularity in the U.S. in time for the Civil War and was still pretty popular among American troops well through World Wars I and II.
Small, compact, and lightweight, it was not an instrument you’d get confused with say, an order to go over the top, and it didn’t have to be lugged around like Derek’s stupid guitar. It also made for some really great solo music when you’re sitting around by the fire, bored and waiting for your lieutenant to order you to run through mud at a machine gun.
And, unlike a drum, every once it a while, a well-placed harmonica would stop a bullet.
Which usually would not end well for you and your buds.
Bugles weren’t just used for battlefield communication, they dominated every aspect of a troop’s daily life. When to wake up, when to eat, when the duty day was over, even sick call — all communicated through bugle calls.
Unfortunately for the enemy, a bugle call more often than not meant the a hundred or more war horses were on their way to mush you and your battle buddies into the ground.
“Don’t you dare let that beat drop, son.”
Anyone who’s heard the opening bars of Metallica’s Enter Sandman can probably tell you just how awesome drums can be, even if the beat is very simple. In war, drums were not only used as communications, but also as a way to intimidate an enemy force into believing their numbers were bigger than they actually were.
Easily the best instrument for hiding an army’s numbers, bagpipes were considered a weapon of war until 1996. It was said that a highland regiment never went to war without a piper in the lead, so the bagpipes meant that that an army was on the move — and the enemy (usually the British) could have no idea how big it was. The pipes hid all other sounds.
By World War II, the pipes were relegated to being a background instrument, used only well behind friendly lines — until Bill Millan landed on Sword Beach during D-Day, sporting a kilt and playing the pipes.
The unmistakable sound of bagpipes on the move probably struck fear into the heart of any enemy, even if that sound came from miles away. It was loud enough to give you plenty of warning the Scots were on the move. They wanted you to be there when their army arrived.
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.
And most of these epic songs are from video games. Because it’s a new (virtual reality) world, friends.
Here are some of our favorites:
1. Opening Titles — Hans Zimmer | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Zimmer is king when it comes to sweeping scores, and he did not hold back with the COD: MW2 soundtrack. It starts the sixth installment of Call of Duty off with the perfect blend of ambiance and suspense.
2. Extraction Point — Hans Zimmer | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
This song jumps right into the action. COD: MW2 is about taking an Afghanistan city back from insurgents and the intensity is clear in this song.
3. Breach — Hans Zimmer | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
“Breach” slows things down a bit, a necessary reprieve.
4. Guerrilla Tactics — Hans Zimmer | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Our final pick from this album, “Guerrilla Tactics” picks up the pace and introduces non-traditional instruments to give you a feel for the action that comes with a mission.
5. Call of Duty: MW3 — Brian Tyler
This one feels like it’s from a scene that may or may not make your eyes mist up. It’s okay. Just lean into it.
6. Advanced Soldier Overture — Harry Gregson-Williams | Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
This one has a build to it. Need to get motivated? Start here.
The veteran, who performs under the name Craig Morgan, is releasing a new album but still finds plenty of time to go on USO tours and stop by military bases to visit troops, an activity he says is near and dear to his heart. I mean, who doesn’t like country music?
The tours can feel strange for him though, since he’s treated like a VIP while he still thinks of himself as a soldier. This is especially true when he visits his former duty stations like Fort Campbell or Fort Bragg.
“It’s super odd, even still to this day, many years later,” he told WATM. “I’m not a VIP, I’m a soldier. It’s emotional. I mean, I had children born on both of those bases.”
While Morgan is very proud of his veteran status and open about it, he’s surprised that many of his fans and peers in the industry don’t know that he served. His new album’s title track, “A Whole Lot More To Me,” is partially about the fact that he wasn’t always a performer.
“I find it amazing that having been in the music industry for this long, there are still people who don’t know I was in the military,” he said. “That’s crazy to me. That’s what this record is about. There’s a whole lot more to me than country music and pickup trucks.”
The music video for a new song on the album even includes shots of his time in uniform as well as video of Morgan visiting troops and conducting activities, like PT, with them.
While the new album contains direct references to Craig Morgan’s time in the military, he says that most of his songs have ties to the service.
“The music always reflects back, at some point for me, to my experiences in my life, and since most of my life was in the military, they all relate back to it.”
One standout hit has a surprise military connection. “Redneck Yacht Club,” a 2005 song about a bunch of country boys taking their boats onto the lake for a party, is tied to his time slipping away from the post during downtime in the Army.
“I remember being at Fort Bragg and going to the lake or to Louisiana to get on the water,” he said.
Morgan, who spent over six years in the Reserves after serving for nearly 10 on active duty, says that he still misses the military from time-to-time, especially after USO tours.
“When I come home I pout around a little bit because I feel like I should be back in the Army,” he said.
Army Ranger and Air Force Pararescueman Wil Willis is literally an American bad ass, so it makes sense Kid Rock’s epic song would make his Battle Mix playlist.
“Music became sort of this way of marking your time through the military.”
He’s not the only vet to talk about the impact music had on his time in the service. Like others, Willis has specific memories tied to the music he listened to while wearing the uniform, whether he connected with the lyrics or sang the songs to keep the cadence on unit runs.
“When you’re in the Ranger battalion, you’re the tip of the spear. ‘Break glass in case of war. Unleash hell’ — War Pigs is what that’s all about.”
Willis said he fought for family and love and adventure; for him, that was the whole point of service.
In December 2003, Michael Trotter, Jr. was a soldier stationed in Baghdad, Iraq. His unit was camped out in one of Saddam Hussein’s bombed-out palaces when his commanding officer discovered a piano and suggested Trotter, who enjoyed singing, check it out.
“You had to crawl over soot and rut and rock and rubble from the war to get to this piano; it was like one of those dramatic movie scenes,” Trotter told Real Clear Life.
“Dear Martha” is about the letters written between loved ones divided by war. Trotter recorded the song with his wife, Tanya Blount, as part of their musical duo, The War and Treaty, which explores the concept of creating music out of darkness and despair to find peace, tranquility, and a higher purpose.
While this video doesn’t include any visuals, you can hear their tranquil notes and haunting harmonies by clicking play below — and you really, really should: