Former soldiers in 4Troops recount close calls
NEW YORK (AP) -- Former Sgt. David Clemo understands the power of music.
Although he wasn't in combat, as a telecommunications specialist stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, he had to dodge plenty of gunfire and mortars going off around him. When it was over, he would turn to music to help him relax.
Now, as a member of the 4Troops, Clemo hopes to bring that same kind of ease to others with the new group's self-titled debut album, a mix of patriotic and uplifting songs.
"That's what made music so important," Clemo said in a recent interview. "It helps take you another place for a while."
4Troops is comprised of Clemo, former Capt. Meredith Melcher, retired Staff Sgt. Ron Henry and former Sgt. Daniel Jens. The group is the creation of Army veteran Victor Hurtado, who serves as the production director for the Army Soldier Show, which provides entertainment for soliders and their families (Hurtado has the same job originated by Irving Berlin).
"We have such a good chemistry, people can't believe we've only been working together since December," Henry said.
But even before they came together for Hurtado's group, music was a big part of their lives.
Melcher and Clemo participated in the Army Soldier Show, Henry performed in "Military Idol," the talent competition for U.S. servicemen and women, and Jens appeared on season three of "America's Got Talent."
Melcher is the lone female member of the group, and held the highest rank. She, along with Clemo and Jens, were honorably discharged. Henry retired after a twenty-year hitch.
Henry recalled a lot of combat over his career, which began in the infantry. He later became a transportation manager, responsible for deploying troops to the field.
As a field artilleryman, Jens, who was stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, seemed to have the most close calls. His detail was responsible for convoy escort, supply missions, and making sure VIPs moved safely through the country.
"We caught small arms fire. A rocket-propelled grenade flew over the trunk of my car. Another time I had a rocket fly over my head and it landed thirty yards away," Jens said.
Melcher was spared from direct contact with the enemy, but as a health care operations officer, she couldn't escape the war's residual effect.
"I saw a lot of wounded, Americans and Iraqis, including some that had been deceased on each side, so that was a little bit harrowing," she said.
Some days were harder to cope than others for her and her unit.
"We are all a little bit scared, so we're going to use whatever we could to get through it,whether that's music, whether that's humor, whether that's just sitting down together to talk about what you're seeing each day," Melcher confided.
Their debut doesn't reference those difficult times directly. Instead, there are songs like the inspirational "You'll Never Walk Alone" to Toby Keith's in-your-face "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue."
But the group shies away from expressing their opinions on the nation's conflicts.
"We are not concerned about the politics, we just want to focus on the service members and their families who have paid a great price," Henry said.
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