The Music That Defined The Post-9/11 Generation Of Veterans

Community
Paratroopers with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division fire at insurgent forces during a firefight June 15 in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

The Spartans had their flutists. The Scottish had their bagpipers. Various cavalry units have made good use of the trumpet throughout history. The Bible even says that Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho with the blast of a ram’s horn.


As long as humans have waged war, music has been an integral aspect of it for those who are sent to fight. So much that even in modern times, when a country is preparing for war, it’s referred to as, “beating the war drum.” Of course, music has been implemented in various ways through the ages. In the past, it was used to call out orders over the din of battle while maneuvering forces engaged in combat. It’s also been what kept a formation in step as it advances on the enemy.

Related: 82-Year-Old Navy Vet Sings Drowning Pool’s ‘Bodies’ On TV Show, Chaos Ensues »

More recently, reports have surfaced that music was a tool for waging psychological warfare against America’s adversaries, sometimes even during interrogations.

Jasen Moreno leads Drowning Pool in a concert April 9 during the annual Foster Festival aboard Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, April 9, 2016.U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Janessa Pon

For the vast majority of American combat veterans in the post-9/11 era, music played a much different role. For them, music was more personal, capitalizing on the intersection of lyrics with instruments to increase the output of the body’s adrenal glands prior to combat missions. Stated simply, service members used music to get pumped up before leaving the wire. When tasked with going out day after day, night after night in the most dangerous corners of the world, service members needed every advantage possible to get their mind right for the chaos of combat. So what did they listen to, specifically?

Rock may seem obvious, but it’s accurate to say it’s the overwhelming favorite among modern warfighters. Preferences range from classic standbys like Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” to more modern hits like Five Finger Death Punch’s “Bad Company.” Andrew Pavlica, who served in the 3rd Infantry Division and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment as a tanker, told Task & Purpose, “I loved hardcore music to get my blood pumping. It kept me wide awake and alert too.” Pavlica, who preferred listening to “Destroy Everything” by Hatebreed on his way out the wire, went on to say, “Some of the crew liked it, and some didn't. Shit motivated me. Still gives me goosebumps to this day.”

For Leo Jenkins, a former Army Ranger known for his prose about experiences during and after war, a more introspective approach did the trick. “In Iraq, I listened to the same A Perfect Circle song while kitting up. It's called ‘The Outsider’ I believe.” Said Jenkins, a veteran of four combat deployments as a special operations medic. He relayed the heavy nature of that song selection in an interview with Task & Purpose recently, saying, “It’s about suicide, and while I wasn't even close to suicidal in Iraq, I had fully accepted my own death. I wrote my own eulogy six weeks into that deployment. It wasn't a pump-me-up song, it was more about coming to accept my own mortality.”

Seaman Apprentice Marcus Johns listens through a pair of sound-powered headphones Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008, aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin during a patrol of the Caribbean Sea.U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

Perhaps no song is more synonymous with the wartime experience than “Bodies” by Drowning Pool. It may seem obvious why the song was so popular among combat troops with the hook, “Let the bodies hit the floor,” being repeated over and over again throughout the track. But the band’s original vocalist Dave Williams has a take on the song that presents a view most veterans can identify with even more than the overtly violent lyrics. In an interview with Hiponline.com, he said, “It’s about my perspective when I look out and see the pit. It’s about forgetting everything that has happened to you that week, leave your bullshit at the door, and get it all out. But you have to have respect for the others in the pit. If you push them down, you have to pick them back up. I’m not going to get behind the violence thing, it is violent, but there is a certain amount of respect and a code.”

Related: The Warfighter’s Guide To A Combat Playlist »

Of course, there is more to the music of war than just hard rock. But whether it’s country, rap, pop, or even classical music in some cases, music has left its imprint on a generation of warfighters. Those songs, unique to every individual, are the anthem of a generation of youth who willfully put themselves in harm’s way. They are the lyrics and melodies that have the power of a time machine, transporting those who have moved on back to a place where they likely experienced the best and worst moments of their life. They have the power of evoking everything from a tear to a smile, sometimes both at the same time in remembrance of times past and friends lost.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “For Whom The Bell Tolls” was by AC/DC, not Metallica.  (Updated 2/8/2017; 3:34 p.m.)

In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea said on Sunday they will postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea, even as Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea.

Read More Show Less

An opening ceremony will be held Monday on Hawaii island for a military exercise with China that will involve about 100 People's Liberation Army soldiers training alongside U.S. Army counterparts.

This comes after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, spoke on Veterans Day at Punchbowl cemetery about the "rules-based international order" that followed U.S. victory in the Pacific in World War II, and China's attempts to usurp it.

Those American standards "are even more important today," Davidson said, "as malicious actors like the Communist Party of China seek to redefine the international order through corruption, malign cyber activities, intellectual property theft, restriction of individual liberties, military coercion and the direct attempts to override other nations' sovereignty."

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to "act quickly" to reach a deal with the United States, in a tweet weighing in on North Korea's criticism of his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump, who has met Kim three times since 2018 over ending the North's missile and nuclear programs, addressed Kim directly, referring to the one-party state's ruler as "Mr. Chairman".

In his tweet, Trump told Kim, "You should act quickly, get the deal done," and hinted at a further meeting, signing off "See you soon!"

Read More Show Less

It is impossible to tune out news about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump now that the hearings have become public. And this means that cable news networks and Congress are happier than pigs in manure: this story will dominate the news for the foreseeable future unless Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt get back together.

But the wall-to-wall coverage of impeachment mania has also created a news desert. To those of you who would rather emigrate to North Korea than watch one more lawmaker grandstand for the cameras, I humbly offer you an oasis of news that has absolutely nothing to do with Washington intrigue.

Read More Show Less

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will return three captured naval ships to Ukraine on Monday and is moving them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Crimea's border guard service was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday.

A Reuters reporter in Crimea, which Russian annexed from Ukraine in 2014, earlier on Sunday saw coastguard boats pulling the three vessels through the Kerch Strait toward the Black Sea where they could potentially be handed over to Ukraine.

Read More Show Less