Everyone needs an outlet for the stress, frustration, and anxiety that come along with life and, especially, with the unique stresses of the military. Some people are gym rats and rack up hundreds of miles or reps in a year. Others lose themselves in books or video games, while still others immerse themselves in a hobby – golf, kayaking, knitting, photography. This week we’ve been talking about outlets that involve “the arts” – acting, writing, filmmaking, and papermaking. Today, we’re going to talk to a servicemember who uses music as his outlet.
Lieutenant Colonel Mike Corrado is an active duty Marine and Iraq veteran. He is also a successful musician whose music has been featured on CMT, Great American Country, and AFN and who has shared the stage with the likes of Bon Jovi, John Mayer, and Travis Tritt. Corrado has also recently been chosen by Taylor Guitars as part of their Step Forward: MUSIC IS WAITING campaign, which features stories of those who have pursued music despite a challenging journey. He has also been selected by the Academy of Country Music (ACM), the DoD, and the United States Marine Corps to perform at the ACM “Salute to the Troops” concert, which will air May 20th on CBS.
When I first heard Mike’s music, it gave me goose bumps. And his story is just as interesting. Despite a very busy schedule, he agreed to tell you a little bit about both.
Me: Your first EP was released while you were on a sea deployment. In September 2001, you were actually out of the Marine Corps, pursuing music full time, and were set to release your second full-length CD, when 9/11 happened and you were recalled to Active Duty. You are currently still on Active Duty and released another album in December. Would you say that pursuing both military service and music, despite the challenges, has improved each career?
Mike: I believe the Marine Corps has helped my music career in many ways. When I originally left active duty to pursue music full time, I applied many of the things I learned in the Corps to my new career such as: goal setting, establishing a plan to accomplish those goals, self discipline, drive, and, of course, the ability to “improvise, adapt, and overcome” when challenges or obstacles presented themselves. The Marine Corps has also afforded me the opportunity to meet and serve alongside some amazing and inspirational men and women. When you get to know them, their stories and backgrounds, it’s hard for that to not creep into the songwriting.
As far as music helping my Marine Corps career, I think the biggest thing it has helped with is breaking down communication barriers. For example, I wrote a song called “Lucky One” that talks about PTSD, suicide, and survivors’ guilt. When I play that song or when people hear it, it puts the topic out there and opens the discussions. Some of those discussions are quite eye opening and humbling but the important things is getting the word out that it’s OK to ask for help. I am also glad to see music therapy programs being implemented into the recovery of wounded, ill, and injured service members.
Me: While not all your songs are military-related, many are. Those that are contain lyrics, such as: “I’ll brave the cold, the rain, the pain, and the bullets, so you don’t have to” from “On My Watch Tonight,” which genuinely express the heart of what it means to serve. Do you sit down with the intent to write songs that tell the stories of the men and women you serve with or are the experiences so compelling that they inspire you to write?
Mike: It’s hard to explain how it happens; it just happens. I don’t sit down and say I am going to write a song about the military or service members. If something is on my mind, it usually finds its way into a song. For example, there is a new song on my latest EP called “Silver Tags,” which is about dog tags. I was working with a Marine who was a battalion commander in Iraq during the early years and several Marines in his command were killed in action (KIA). To this day, he carries around a key chain with the dog tags of his fallen Marines. Thought relatively light in weight, that key chain carries some heavy emotional weight. I think about guys like that, the service men and women who wear them for their chosen profession or the spouse or family member who wears them in remembrance for the loved ones they lost. Then, I see celebrities wear them as jewelry. “Silver Tags” is my way of telling what they are really for and what they mean to many.
Me: “Still in the Fight” is a song about wounded warriors, the reality of the challenges they face in the rehabilitation process and the strength and resilience with which they are meeting those challenges. As Executive Officer of the Wounded Warrior Regiment, you’ve seen this battle up close. How would say that experience has impacted you?
Mike: I actually wrote “Still in the Fight” before I came to the Wounded Warrior Regiment (the U.S. Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment should not be confused with the benevolent organization Wounded Warrior Project). As I begin to wrap up my three-year tour with the Regiment, I can definitely say it has been one of the most challenging, humbling, and unforgettable assignments I have had in my Marine Corps career. I have been extremely fortunate to have met so many courageous and inspiring Warriors and their families who have all left me with indelible memories of service, sacrifice, and resilience.
Me: You’ve said that “Music is good medicine.” During your Iraq deployment (2005-2006), you turned to music to help deal with the stresses of a combat environment. What is it about music that helps you cope in ways other outlets can’t?
Mike: For me, it’s the song. If I am playing a song (singing & playing guitar), it becomes the focus for those couple of moments. When listening to a song, you can visualize where you were when you first heard it, or who you were with when you heard it, or follow the lyrics and imagine being in the story line. It’s like a little vacation, an escape.
Me: What advice would you give to servicemembers and veterans who may be thinking of pursuing a career in music or even just thinking about picking up a musical instrument for the first time?
Mike: Go for it! Don’t be afraid to try out an instrument. Just like becoming proficient in your military occupational specialty (MOS), it takes time, practice, and training; don’t get frustrated. As for a career in music, there are a growing number of programs and opportunities to be able to pursue music while still serving. You don’t necessarily have to leave the service to do it.
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