A few weeks ago, I posted an update on my Voices of War project. You can read it here. If you don’t know about this project, it is my effort to record the voices of the men and women from West Virginia who have served their country in time of war, signing a blank check that if their life was needed in defense of freedom, they were willing to let it be cashed in. When I began this project, I explained it here.
A couple days ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to two more veterans—my 18th and 19th interviews respectively. Every one of these discussions is fascinating. I see men who are normally boisterous and strong, get quiet when they talk about their experiences. Even for the ones who hold their emotions in check, you can see a slight hand shake when they talk or their eyes go unfocused, staring off into the distance when they remember the things they have seen.
I had a lot of fun talking to Jeff Ellis this week. He’s been deployed overseas twice, once to Kuwait and once to Iraq. Currently a Staff Sergeant, he plans to remain in the Army Reserves; he is working toward his 20 year retirement. He expects to be deployed to Afghanistan eventually even as the United States Army works on a drawdown of forces. In his civilian job, Jeff works to support veterans who have run afoul of the legal system. He will graduate from Marshall University with a degree in Psychology in a week or so and he plans to use that degree to help veterans as they transition back to the civilian world.
This made me think of another veteran I interviewed who had nearly completed his own 20 years of service in the army before he was deployed to a war zone. Prior to heading off to war, the enlisted soldier progressed to Sergeant and then, in the Army Reserves, went to Officer Candidate School. Went he went to war, it was as a First Lieutenant. Since then, the man’s rise through the ranks has been short-circuited and he left the Army. He was working on his college degree before he went to war, but now he has no plans to go back. Alcoholism and legal problems derailed his career. Talking to him, I couldn’t help but think about the hidden costs of these wars.
Aside from Jeff’s contributions out of uniform, though, is his other passion in life—music. Jeff is a talented singer/songwriter. The release of his first CD was actually delayed by his first deployment. He ended up promoting it when he came home from Kuwait on a two-week leave, playing nearly every day. His second CD, called “The Line”, is based heavily on his experiences overseas. While in Iraq last year, he was working at many of the Forward Operating Bases, helping to decommission them. These smaller bases rarely got the attention of the larger music acts who visited troops. Jeff got pressed into service, playing at these smaller bases. He said he played a lot of covers during those concerts, rather than his original music, no doubt to remind the soldiers of home.
Jeff was also invited to make two appearances on the Armed Forces Network, both of which were recorded. He explained that the show’s producers edited his performance into the individual songs and continued playing them over the radio. From time to time, he said, he would be sitting beside someone who would hear the song and say “Ellis. That ain’t you, is it?” mostly jokingly. Until he would say, “Yeah, that’s me.”
There are several Youtube videos of Jeff performing in Iraq. Give him a listen on the Youtube page for his recording label.
And here is one from Iraq.