MUSIC AS A WEAPON
Captain’s log, Stardate….no, wait, that’s another thing…
Location: Khobar Towers, King Abdul-Aziz Air Base, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Date: April/May 1992
To drown out the familiar chanting and droning on of the local Mullah on the overhead PA system, I donned my new spongy-eared headphones and made completely sure that my $300 portable CD player stayed parallel to the ground to prevent skipping. Yes, you remember what I’m talking about folks. Even when you pressed the “anti-shock” button, the damn thing wouldn’t stop skipping around if you jolted it or tipped it even the slightest. I then began my five minute walk to the post office. Lucky me! I had a package! As I stood in line, the music blared in my ears and I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a Colonel who asked what I was listening to because he could hear the residual sounds of a sitar coming from my headphones.
“Sir, it’s Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ and the song is called ‘Wherever I May Roam,’” I told him.
“Wow! I thought you were listening to some local flavor,” he replied.
“No way Sir, I’m a metalhead,” I emphatically retorted as I shot him the horns.
I picked up my package, put my headphones back on and walked back to my room to get ready for my shift. Four years later, the building next to mine was destroyed by a truck bomb, killing nineteen service members and wounding a bunch of others.
That was twenty-six years ago on my first deployment with the 12th Security Police Squadron, Randolph Air Force Base, just outside of San Antonio, Texas.
Location: Camp Cunningham, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan
Date: March 2004
It took several days to get to Afghanistan after a three-day stop in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Life for me had evolved since my first deployment. I taught myself to sing and worked on my guitar skills. I still wasn’t good on guitar by any stretch of the imagination, but could play some chords and knew some songs, but I was (and still am) primarily a singer. I had been in a couple of bands already and brought my burgundy Takamine acoustic/electric with me, along with all my military gear. I was no longer assigned to the Security Police and became a Safety Manager and had been promoted to Master (MASTER!) Sergeant. Technology seemed like it was moving at the speed of light. Desktop computers and laptops were more and common and the digital age was officially upon me. I bought a $395 portable DVD player and brought it with me to listen to music and watch por…I mean movies.
I lived in what was called a B-hut. Not sure what the “B” stood for, but it certainly didn’t stand for “big.” I was expecting desert conditions, but I was totally wrong because Bagram is a mountainous region. My first day on the ground after arriving, I was met by the public affairs officer who told me that a Security Policeman had gone souvenir hunting off the beaten path and blew his fucking leg off. I thought, “What a dope!” There are clearly marked signs and flags throughout the base and you are briefed every damn day to stay out of those areas. This doofus felt the need to go step on a land mine. Anyway, I put my headphones on, looked into the “mishap” and went about my deployment. Again, the one constant, not only on my deployments and 20-year military career, but throughout my life, was music.
I have loved music since I was a kid. My parents had all kinds of music in the house and were very involved in the disco era of the 70’s. I am well-versed in that music, believe it or not, as well as many rock and roll genres, other than metal.
My first memory of music is when I got a Kenner Close ‘n Play for Christmas back in maybe 1970. I remember sitting on the toilet turning the music down and listening to “Sherry” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Hell, I’m a Jersey Boy too, so why not listen to the falsetto vocals of one of the greats. I did the standard “performances” for my mother and father in the living room with a tennis racquet like every kid did back then. I also remember walking home one day and finding a small guitar that someone had thrown away. I picked that fucker out of the trash and brought it home. A little later I had to give it back to the kid whose folks had inadvertently (or vertently?) threw it out. I was mad because back then, finders/keepers was an actual thing, unlike today. My first exposure to rock was when I had heard of a band called KISS. I never actually heard their music because I was from a good Catholic family where it was taboo to listen to the “Knights in Satan’s Service”…a little later on I was pissed to find out that I was duped by my Aunt Ronnie into believing I would go to hell if I listed to that devil music.
A few years later, my parents split and I took it really hard. Going from what I thought was a tight-knit, mostly Italian-American culture with many dinners and poker games to a broken family sent me reeling. I was honestly depressed beyond belief. That’s when I turned to hard rock and metal! Unlike other kids my age, I had no desire to smoke cigarettes, weed or get into drugs. Being around it in New Jersey just turned me off to it all. I saw an ad in TV Guide for Columbia House and snuck an order in for 13 records for a penny. I was a minor and knew they couldn’t make me pay, so a few weeks later I received my vinyl. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and a bunch of other records (that I still have) wore out the belts of my turntable as I melted away my troubles in my father’s one-room motel room with his girlfriend and her two kids. This was the worst time in my life, but I survived because of music!
I’ve got so many stories about music, both listening and performing, that I could fill a phone book. If you ask any Veteran or Active Duty member, I’m sure they’ll tell you that music has helped them get through deployments, rough patches, boring days (yes, there are many of those too), workouts, training, etc.
I’m a firm believer that music is something very personal that will never let you down, is always there for you, can enhance any mood, and is more flexible than a Russian mail-order bride. Until next time, use MUSIC AS A WEAPON!
Steve “Sin” Sinatra is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant who served 20-years active duty. He deployed twice, once during Operation Desert Storm/Calm to Saudi Arabia, and once during Operation Enduring Freedom to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the singer of the southern metal band Destruction Evolution, which is currently on hiatus. Sin resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife Karen and three dogs, Jeter, Cilla and Lola.