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November 25, 2005
Iraq UnpluggedBy Greyhawk
(Attention Christmas shoppers! This story from last summer is re-posted today with you in mind. The Mudvile Gazette gets no - none - zip - nada - proceeds from sale of these items. Buy a few for stocking stuffers, and enjoy.)
One day in Baghdad, Arkansas National Guardsmen Luke Striklin, Nick Brown, and JR Shultz found themselves with some time on their hands. They hooked a cheap microphone up to a laptop computer and recorded themselves playing guitars and signing songs they wrote while "over there". Some of those tunes have ended up floating around the internet, and onto radio stations in the US. One of them resulted in a record contract for Stricklin.
That song is called American by God's Amazing Grace, and if you haven't heard it yet you will. Here's one of the lines from the song:
You want to talk about it, you better keep it short
Despite being in Baghdad at the same time, I never met these guys. We've been fans of these guys for a while now, and have added a permanent link to their site from our sidebar. I first "met" JR when he emailed and thanked me for the link. That email led to this interview, and I thank him for his time.
He and Shultz have compiled their work onto a self-produced CD called Iraq Unplugged and are making them to order via their web site. Ten bucks and 2.95 s&h will get you your piece of history in the form of some fine music made under incredible circumstances. Don't expect Woodstock - these guys would be booed off the stage at any "support the troops - bring them home!" rally. Likewise these aren't multi-million dollar studio recordings by other folks "supporting the troops" - these are songs by the troops, live from Iraq. So besides being "real good" these guys are "real" the way most singers only wish they could be.
Without further ado...
JR: I am from Arkansas, outside of Hot Springs.
GH: How did you end up in the National Guard?
JR: I joined mainly for the college money, I graduated in 2002 with a BS in Biology and currently work for the Fisheries Division of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
GH: How long have you been in the Guard?
JR: I was at the end of my 6 years when we were activated, I was placed on stop-loss, but was happy to go with my unit instead of take my chances in IRR.
GH: Did the three of you know each other before going to Iraq?
JR: Luke and I met when he joined the guard about 5 yrs ago. We were in the same platoon until I was pulled to join a team of cadre training Iraqi National Guard Soldiers. We met Nick in Baghdad.
GH: What was your mission in Iraq?
JR: I was pulled from my squad to join a team of cadre who were responsible for training an Iraqi National Guard unit. At the beginning of our deployment, we were conducting training drills inside the perimeter of our FOB, and by the end we were accompanying elements from the ING unit on operations in the Haifa St. area of Baghdad. I can't speak for any other unit, but these guys made a lot of progress in the year that we worked with them.
Greyhawk notes: He's being modest. But I know about Haifa street. Here's a recent report:
An American-Iraqi military campaign, begun last year to retake the street, seemed to bear fruit as insurgents were captured, killed or driven out of the area. On Feb. 6, the American command handed over a cut of north-central Baghdad, including Haifa Street, to the 1st Brigade, 6th Division, of the Iraqi army.You can contrast that with this well-publicized story of some Pulitzer prize-winning photos from December of last year.
A brazen daylight attack in the heart of Baghdad with rebels executing election workers in cold blood served as a chilling reminder Sunday of the deteriorating security situation in the Iraqi capital with just more than a month before crucial parliamentary elections.But even while helping transform Haifa Street, J.R, Nick and Luke found time for other pursuits too.
GH: What's your musical background?
JR: I've played guitar for about 8 years, but only as a hobby. I only began writing songs in Iraq as a way to pass the time and vent a little.
GH: Did you plan to take guitars over there? How did you get them there? And how did you establish a recording studio in Baghdad?
JR: I packed my box on a shipping container at Ft. Hood that was sent by boat. I recovered it in Baghdad a few months later, surprised to find it still in tune!! So the three of us spent many hours playing guitar together. Nick and I had written a few songs and were urged by other soldiers to find a way to record them so I downloaded a program off of the internet. With my laptop, a plastic mic designed for internet chat, and an acoustic guitar, we began recording and passing out our music to soldiers in our battalion and it has spread from there. "Mortaritaville" and "I am a Patriot" have been widely shared over the internet, but we are equally excited about the other 11 tracks on our album, titled "Iraq Unplugged". Luke and I wrote "American by God's Amazing Grace" which was sent home and picked up by radio stations after we recorded it in Baghdad.
GH: Are you all involved in Luke Striklin's album project?
JR: No, Luke was picked up by an independent label out of Nashville, the only association I have with his album is being co-writer of "American...." However, he has been keeping in touch and Nick and I are hoping the best for him. Hopefully we can write together again sometime. Luke recorded several more songs with us but unfortunately they will not be available on this CD. We did not begin this project with the goal of someday selling a CD. We were merely writing songs dealing with our experiences and sometimes drawing off of the experiences of soldiers around us. However, once we recorded this music, the response from family and friends, as well as fellow soldiers, was overwhelming and they urged us to find a way to spread our music. Many soldiers serving in Iraq have heard about our music either through word of mouth or on the internet but virtually no one knows about our CD or our website.
GH: Well, the finished project is awesome, and it should be heard. Anything else you want to say to America or the world about your time over there?
JR: We are excited about sharing our music with America and hope that they not only enjoy what we have to offer, but we hope it can give them a sense of what is encountered by the American soldier in Iraq. When I wrote "I am a Patriot" I was expressing how it felt to be a soldier in a combat zone, where you could greet death any day. I hope that this song will serve as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that so many Americans have made. Others, such as "Mortaritaville" could be interpreted as Anti-war. However, it is not. Many times when things got rough, I'd wonder how I ended up in Iraq. This song is about a soldier going through the possibilities (blaming Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush) before finally deciding it was his own fault for enlisting in the first place. The song was meant to be comical and not a political statement of any kind, contrary to what I've read on many online discussions about it. Our country's leadership was merely a target of opportunity that fit to well with the scheme of the song. We are currently working on a page for our website complete with Lyrics and the inspirations behind each of our songs.
GH: You've got nothing to apologize for, your songs capture the reality, and they speak for a lot of GIs. So what's in the future?
JR: I will be leaving the guard in September, done with my 8 year obligation. I plan on working and raising my family, trying to spread the word about this CD in my spare time. If I have a future in music, it would be as a songwriter. Nick on the other hand has a lot of talent and hopefully this music from will launch a career for him as it did for Luke.
You can listen to samples from Iraq Unplugged at their site. (Click on the name tapes on the front page. Mrs Greyhawk's favorite is I am a Patriot - but we haven't heard them all yet.) A bit of advice from me, act fast on this one. I think once the big labels find these guys the originals might become rare...
Hey JR, thanks, and best of luck to you!
And if anyone wants to leave a comment here for him, I think he'll probably get the message.
Posted by Greyhawk / November 25, 2005 10:26 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com