Life after the uniform has been anything but a letdown for 4TROOPS, a quartet of combat veterans that has gained national media exposure and acclaim since signing a recording contract with Sony earlier this year.
To hear them, you would think they have been performing onstage together for years. In fact, Meredith Melcher, David Clemo, Daniel Jens and Ron Henry met for the first time in New York City last December, brought together by Victor Hurtado, production director for the Army Soldier Show; they rehearsed for two days and then auditioned for Sony. Their self-titled debut album is on sale now, and proceeds benefit American Legion programs. The group is scheduled to perform Aug. 30 and 31, during the Legion's 92nd National Convention in Milwaukee.
Each of the group members has a passion for music. Beyond that, however, is a deep desire to connect with their fellow veterans, military personnel and their families. When The American Legion Magazine caught up with them midway through 4TROOPS' first tour, they were at Fort Hood, Texas, where two of them had previously been stationed. This particular show had special meaning for the group, coming no more than six months after a shooting spree there by Maj. Nadal Hisan left 13 dead and wounded dozens more.
Q: You all have been singing and performing music, individually or with other groups, since you were very young. How is it that you are able to harmonize so well having been together only a short time?
Henry: I think what brings most of it out is that we all have experiences that are part of every song that we sing. Whenever someone sings what they've been through and what they feel, it's spiritual. So when Dave sings "I'm Already There" or "Bless the Broken Road," he's experienced that.
Q: So, your military experience has been a big help to your ability to perform as a group?
Melcher: It has given us the discipline to be able to come into the music industry as brand-new artists, effectively produce an album and travel the country to promote that album, all while remaining focused and able to work hard to get our message out there. It also gave us a sense of preparedness, in that we are ready for anything.
Clemo: Because we've been in a high-stress environment, we rise to the challenge. We're ready to handle it. And here, all I've got to do is get up on stage and sing.
Henry: We are focused on the mission. It's not about us. I work with three leaders. They are mature, they are grounded, they have their heads on straight. You couldn't ask for a better team.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your music?
Jens: We really want to show support and raise awareness for members of the military and their families. When I was on active duty, I really appreciated when people came up to us and said, "Thank you." We want people to know that taking the time to say "thank you" means the world to us. It reminds us why we serve.
Clemo: We wanted to address what it is like to leave loved ones behind. All the songs we picked address the relationships between servicemembers and their families, as well as some patriotic songs. Hopefully, we're helping in the healing process and bringing understanding of what servicemembers and their families are going through.
Q: Two of you served here, at Fort Hood, and one of you was here on the day of the shootings last November. What is it like to come back?
Jens: It felt kind of weird, not being on active duty and walking around my old post. But it's a blessing to be able to come back and sing on behalf of servicemembers and their families. It's great to see old friends there, too. They are all very proud of me and the group.
Melcher: Returning to Fort Hood is very nostalgic. Not only did I live here for two years as an Army brat – I graduated from Killeen High School in 1998 – but it was also my first duty station when I became an Army officer. The soldiers I served with at Fort Hood were the ones I deployed to Kuwait and Iraq with, so for me it will always have special meaning as the place that really taught me how to become a leader.
Q: Can you describe the feelings you had the day of the shootings last fall?
Jens: I had just left post before the lockdown happened. I know the civilian who was killed. When I came back from my deployment, he was the person who made sure mentally you were OK. It just hit me hard, kind of like the way 9/11 hit me. I just kind of sat there numb. For something like this to happen, it hits you hard as a soldier.
Q: So much has happened since your discharges. Did you foresee any of this?
Melcher: I left the Army in 2006, so I was out almost four years when this started taking shape. I had just changed career directions and was going to graduate school to become a high-school teacher. Now that a music career is here, though, it's like a long-lost dream come true.
Clemo: I don't think any of us thought we'd be doing the things we are doing as far as touring military bases, TV spots, the album. Everything that's come with this so far has been so fast.
Henry: The producers we've worked with – Frank Fillipetti, Grammy award winner, and David Lai, who won a Grammy, and Rob Mounsey – you don't find artists who are doing what we are doing, working with the magnitude of people we are working with. I'm so humbled. What a way to be able to give back after being on active duty, to tell soldiers "thank you" from this point of view.
Ken Olsen is a frequent contributor to The American Legion Magazine.