Military veterans sing about their experiences

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Nashville Hall of Fame songwriter Jim McBride, right, performs "22," local veteran Ed Russell's song about the suicide crisis among military veterans, with MTSU student songwriter Wesley Davis at the Operation Song 2017 informal showcase.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- They served. They survived. Some of them speak of it.

Now more military veterans are singing about their experiences, with support from the musicians of the Nashville-headquartered Operation Song and a growing partnership with MTSU's Commercial Songwriting Program.

The collaborative effort recently welcomed 10 area veterans from multiple service branches for an unofficial "veterans day" on campus, the second annual daylong work session held in MTSU's Bragg Media and Entertainment Building.

Each vet again worked with a student writer and a professional songwriter, then the trios premiered the new song at an informal showcase.

They sang of commanding officers, devoted loved ones, brothers and sisters in arms, hardscrabble origins, family heritage, and the psychological and physical wounds they still carry. And they sang of hope.

"There's been someone in the military service in my family since the 1890s, when my great-grandfather came over from Ireland," explained Jay Reilly, a retired sergeant first class and 27-year U.S Army veteran who is also an academic adviser for MTSU's University College.

"There was one event that happened on Thanksgiving that caught (songwriter) Marc Beeson's attention, so we were talking about family and then the extended family we all get through the military, and we wound up with this."

Five of Reilly's uncles, all D-Day veterans, were part of a holiday family gathering several years ago, he explained. They'd never discussed their experiences with the family, but that cold, rainy day was different.

With Beeson and MTSU senior audio production major James Austin's help, Reilly's Thanksgiving story became "All American Sons":

"One bombed the beaches a few hours before
One drove the boat that brought troops ashore
One dropped in, two landed in the heart of that war
They gave all they had and then they gave more
They were soldiers, sailors, Air Force, Marines
Wounded and shell-shocked with PTSD
These brothers from other mothers stand or fall
They're all American sons"

Caleb Allen of Nashville, a third-generation Army veteran who worked with pro songwriter Wil Nance and senior commercial songwriting major Karis Bradley, noted that he "didn't get as personal as some of the others" with his song "Lucky Me, Lucky You."

He did make it simple, succinct and very catchy, leaving audience members humming its harmonies after the performance.

"I'm passionate about this. People keep bickering and arguing over silly stuff that doesn't really matter when there's kids in other countries who don't know whether they're gonna eat," he explained. "They don't realize how lucky we are."

Operation Song, established in 2012 by Nashville songwriters who met veterans worldwide during Armed Forces Entertainment Tours, helps retired and active-duty veterans and their families sort out their experiences and emotions by telling their stories and turning them into song.

The organization first offered weekly programs for veterans at Murfreesboro's Alvin C. York Medical Center and now offers five more in Nashville, Clarksville, Chattanooga and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as well as songwriting retreats around the country.

The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, which works closely with Operation Song, contacted songwriting program director Odie Blackmon in the Department of Recording Industry last year about starting an event with the university. MTSU's Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center once again encouraged local veterans' participation.

"My mind is always blown at these sessions, and today was no exception," said Operation Song co-founder Bob Regan, who wrote with veteran John Douglas and MTSU student songwriter Eli Kirk.

"I'm so proud of these veterans for telling their stories and of the student songwriters and my good buddies ... I could not be more proud of all of you being a part of this."

The songwriting students will receive credit for their Advanced Commercial Songwriting experiential learning course, which allows them to work with music industry mentors and co-write with pros on songwriting concepts and assigned writing projects.

The songwriting trios also included:

National Guard member and Daniels Center secretary Teana Harle, student songwriter Lisa Zetterlund and pro songwriter Jamie Floyd, veteran Andrew Bunch, student Dusty Cantrell and professional David Kent, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Huber, MTSU's senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives; student Jackson Gulick; and Operation Song co-founder Don Goodman, MTSU student and Army veteran Nick Ferzacca, fellow student songwriter Lydia MacDavid and pro songwriter Cindy Morgan, veteran Trey Smith, student Matthew Holley and professional Rob Crosby, veteran Ed Russell, student songwriter Wesley Davis and pro songwriter Jim McBride, veteran Jackie Evans, student Ashton Prosser and professional George Teren.

For more information about Operation Song, visit For more information on the Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center at MTSU, visit

For details on MTSU's Commercial Songwriting Program in the College of Media and Entertainment, visit

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