A Marine in Fallujah pens a song about standing watch. A sailor stationed in Hawaii scribbles a lullaby for his son while in the Iraqi desert. A soldier raps into a tape recorder to entertain his unit. Songwriters like these servicemembers were among the many who submitted their original songs to this year's "Songs From the Soul of Service" songwriting contest.
Now in its third year, the amateur songwriting contest is a collaborative effort between the Dallas Songwriter Association and the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights corporate and grassroots support for U.S. servicemembers and their families.
Judges select winners and runners-up in each of 18 categories, which include Afghanistan and Iraq, country, hip-hop, inspirational, instrumental and pop/rock. They then select three of the category winners for grand prizes.
The top three songs for 2008 are:
-- First Place: "Ask Me To" by Air Force Capt. Steven Wilson, which took top pop/rock honors;
-- Second Place: "If Tomorrow Were a Dream" by Army National Guard Spc. Greg Pritchard, which was the contest's top country song; and
-- Third Place: "I Can't Wait to Love You" by Jill Charles, wife of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Charles, the top song in the inspirational category.
"Every military conflict from the American Revolution to the Civil War to the first Gulf War has spawned music that reflected the moods, emotions and sentiments of the nation's fighting men and women," said William Brown, Dallas Songwriter Association board member and committee chairman for Songs From the Soul of Service.
"Songs From the Soul of Service serves to capture some of this history," he continued, "while providing recognition to talented songwriters and diversion and entertainment to participants and nonparticipants alike."
Wilson, who earned the top grand prize, said his own life provides his songwriting inspiration.
"Over the years, writing music has been so autobiographical," he said. "It's so honest and personal. I think this contest truly personalizes the image of the military. It shows civilians that as 'the troops' we represent so much more than uniforms and duty. This contest gives us the chance to showcase what might otherwise remain silent or be forgotten."
The contest is open exclusively to amateur songwriters currently serving in the U.S. military and those currently inactive due to injury or disability suffered after the start of the war in Afghanistan. Eligible participants may submit songs on behalf of an immediate family member, a fallen comrade or a fallen comrade's immediate family member.
Brown said he thinks the contest is an excellent outlet for servicemembers.
"These songs provided respite, unit bonding and an expressive outlet during trying times," he explained. "In some cases, these songs will transcend their times and become permanent fixtures in the nation's patriotic songbook."
Wilson, along with the other winners of each category, will be included on a compilation CD provided to radio and music industry professionals, as well as to the contest participants. The first-place grand prize includes a weekend stay at the Gaylord Texan Hotel.
Public events to showcase the winning songs and songwriters are in the planning stages. The events will culminate with a concert at the end of the year, headlined by well-known recording artists.
A complete list of the winners and runners-up is available at www.songssoulservice.org.
By Sharon Foster
Special to American Forces Press Service