SPRINGFIELD — The fact that Sgt. Daniel Jens, Capt. Meredith Melcher, Staff Sgt. Ron Henry and Sgt. David Clemo were able to form a singing group without even knowing each other and audition for a major record label a day and a half later is impressive.
Had they been Special Forces, they might not have needed that extra half a day — but still, these guys are good.
“When you deploy, you work with people you’ve never met before,” Jens said. “Your military training teaches you to always put the mission first.”
So if anyone doubts the readiness of our United States Army to respond to threats from North Korea and Iran while already fighting two wars, never fear — at the very least, they’ll be able to give a nice concert in Pyongyang.
Playing the Summer Arts Festival on Wednesday, June 30, the unique vocal group 4Troops auditioned for Sony Music in December, signed a record deal in January, recorded their first album in February and shot a PBS special in March.
In just six months together, these four combat veterans have had all the momentum of an Abrams tank rolling into Baghdad circa 2003.
“That training,” Jens said, “really helped us put this together that fast.”
And so far, they’re winning the hearts and minds of a nation — our own.
“It’s been pretty incredible,” Jens said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be as big as it has been.”
If Jens’ name looks familiar, it’s because he made the top 20 of “America’s Got Talent” in 2008.
Because of that exposure, he was the first of the 4Troops to be pitched this concept of a new singing group made up of four former soldiers who each served on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m living my dream right now,” Jens said.
But this isn’t like winning “America’s Got Talent.”
For Jens, it’s better.
“It’s not about getting rich,” he said. “It’s a much bigger mission than that.”
While the 4Troops are no longer in the Army, they’ve kept the fatigues on and have taken to singing songs that deal with separation, camaraderie and patriotism.
“This project isn’t actually about the war,” said Jens, an Iraq War veteran. “This is about the service people and their families. That’s something everyone can support.”
The group’s PBS special, “4Troops: Live From the Intrepid” (as in the aircraft carrier), has been airing nationally all month.
For their first album, the group opted to cover pop and country songs that no doubt were selected for their meaning — ranging from “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical “Carousel” to Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”
“Sony said they should put all their artists through boot camp,” Jens said. “We’re on time everywhere we go.”
The fact that they wear fatigues might at first seem gimmicky, but odds are, you won’t even see them — and not just because they’re camouflaged.
“What we sing about, we’ve all lived,” Jens said. “This is who we are. It’s reality music.”
Also at the fest
Neal E. Boyd titled his first album “My American Dream.”
Ain’t it the truth.
In 2008, the Aflac insurance salesman from Missouri stepped before the judges on “America’s Got Talent” and absolutely, undeniably leveled ’em with “Nessun Dorma,” the epic Puccini aria.
He went on to win that season of “America’s Got Talent.”
Boyd plays the free festival at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 1.
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