"It's kind of crazy how music can help you survive a war, but it did," soldier-rapper Sgt. Jeff Barillaro tells me, adding for emphasis, "For me it did, definitely."
Barillaro, who goes by the stage name "Soldier Hard," is one of the rap artists featured on the debut contribution from a military-only record company called To the Fallen.
Sidney DeMello and Sean Gilfillan, a former Army officer and OIF vet, founded the label in 2006 to showcase the talent of US servicemen and women, and to give soldiers an outlet for musical expression.
Soldier Hard's song on the album, Walk With Me, explores the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty of a soldier's reality as he readies to go out on a mission:
Put on my vest, put on my helmet, kiss my family's picture.
E-mail my girl for a second, let her know that I miss her.
Grab my rifle and my ammo, look at myself in the mirror.
Then talk to God for a minute, make my vision more clearer.
Help me understand, Lord, that your will be done.
If I should die today, please take care of m daughter and son.
Give me strength, give me the courage so I could lead my own men,
And please forgive me if I should kill someone. I love you. Amen.
Barillaro has been writing raps since he was 14, and producing his own recordings for almost a decade. A self-described "studio junkie," Barillaro installed Sonar Cakewalk Software on his personal computer, creating a mobile mini-studio for his 2005-2006 deployment to Iraq.
While rapping has long been his way of relieving stress and working through difficult times, his music became more of a critically meaningful lifeline to him when faced with the trauma and constant danger of the warzone.
"The harsh realities of what we went through turned some people to drugs, alcohol, or exercise," he says, "But I had my music."
After a hard day in the field, Soldier Hard could come back to base and start rapping to his computer, recording enough songs to produce his own release called "The Deployment." To the Fallen liked one of its songs so much that they asked if he would contribute to their compilation record.
"Being away from family, especially while in a war zone, is very tough so the music is my way to put those negative thoughts into positive words. Not only for myself, but to be able to uplift a soldier's morale with my music, makes even the worst of environments worthwhile."
Not only fans of rap, To the Fallen's founders intend to continue working to promote the talent of soldiers, expanding their list to include different genres.
"To The Fallen Records: Country Volume I" and "To The Fallen Records: Rock Volume I" are scheduled to be released on Veterans Day, November 11, 2007.