Why I Serve: Soldier Finds Harmony in Army Life
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 4, 2005 Army Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Buckley said he didn't even realize he could sing until 1993. But by 1994 he was singing local gigs in his hometown of Pasco, Wash.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Buckley is a recruiter in Washington state. Hes also a recorded singing artist.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
"I was just doing local things ... just your normal 'wannabe' singer stuff," he said.
Then he got his first break in a call from a local chamber of commerce asking him to open for country music star Clay Walker, who was going to play in the area. Not quite believing what was happening, Buckley took the gig.
He said he was used to playing for much smaller crowds and wondered how the 2,000 or so people in the audience would react to this "nobody." To his amazement, after his 45-minute set, the crowd went wild.
"Just something about that show just told me, 'Gosh, this is what I want to do. This is what I want to do with my life,'" Buckley said.
He initially enlisted in the Army in 1988 right out of high school. He met his wife, Kerry, just after separating from the Army in 1991.
In 1996, Buckley headed to Nashville with the encouragement of his family and recorded a mini-album of five songs. The recording was made through an independent label and didn't meet with much success.
"It really went absolutely nowhere," Buckley said. "I don't consider myself having gotten scammed by them, per se, but I paid a fee to use their label ... but they really didn't do anything for me beyond that."
The experience made him realize that to get anywhere in country music, he needed to be physically closer to the heart of the industry permanently.
By this time, he and his wife had two children and Buckley didn't feel he could leave Washington to pursue a music career without having a job lined up. Then came his second "break."
A full-time student, Buckley saw Army recruiters in a campus building he was walking through. Realizing that re-enlisting would provide the security he needed for his family, he approached one of them to discuss the possibility.
Buckley had some tough requests before he could commit to another enlistment. He wanted to re-enlist at the same rank he was when he separated and to be assigned in the south. The last request, Buckley realized, was truly a tall order: He'd rather not have to go through basic training again.
"It doesn't hurt to ask," he said. "All they can say is, 'No.'"
Fully expecting 'no' on at least one of his requests, Buckley was pleasantly surprised to hear that he was getting everything he asked for.
What he didn't know was that shortly after arriving at Fort Hood, Texas, in April 1997, things would get even better.
Buckley said he still wanted to sing, but as a chemical operations specialist, that wasn't likely to happen in the military. Then he discovered that the 4th Infantry Division there had a country band.
Through an audition, he earned a spot as a vocalist with "M-1." When the band wasn't performing in a military capacity, it played locally as "Jamie Buckley with Open Road."
That gig continued until was transferred to Seoul, South Korea, in January 2000. But it didn't take him long to find an outlet for his musical talent there either.
The Nashville Club there gave him a chance to perform one weekend. Soon he was packing them in. A few in the crowd were locals, but most were military. And the appreciation they expressed to him for his performances touched him.
"There's nothing better for me than singing for the troops," Buckley said.
In Seoul he was initially assigned to the 8th Military Police Brigade. It took about a month before he was reassigned to the 8th Army Band.
And there was one more surprise awaiting him in Seoul.
Gen. Thomas Schwartz, who had served as the 3rd Corps commander at Fort Hood while Buckley was there, had also been reassigned to Seoul as the head of U.S. forces in Korea. He called upon Buckley to help him celebrate the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea.
"He said, 'Hey Jamie, I want you to write me a song,'" Buckley recalled.
Just a few days later, Buckley finished "We Go Together," and gave it to Schwartz, who in turn shared it with his ROK counterpart. The Koreans were concerned with one part of the song that mentioned God. They felt that, as a song of unification, it might have caused members of the Buddhist faith in the country to feel excluded.
"It took me, I think, probably three or four days to write the song, and it took me about five months to change two lines," Buckley said. "I didn't want it to be something that ended up just being cheesy and schmaltzy."
The song, recorded in both English and Korean languages, was performed at many dinners hosted by Schwartz.
Buckley's next move in July 2003 brought him to Fort Knox, Ky. This time his assignment to a band, the 113th Army Band, was immediate. After about six months, he was selected for promotion to sergeant first class and started thinking about his good fortune and weighing it against his responsibilities.
"That's when I went to my commander and said, 'Look, this has been great, and I'd love to do it the rest of my career, but I should probably get back to my (military occupational specialty),'" he said. "I don't know how I made E-7 working out of my MOS so long."
Buckley transferred to a new unit, where he taught nuclear, biological and chemical defense skills to basic trainees and later became noncommissioned officer in charge of his section. He held the latter position until he moved back to Washington.
Since October, Buckley has been serving as a recruiter. He is assigned to the Seattle Recruiting Battalion, Kennewick Recruiting Station.
For now, Buckley said, his command is only allowing him to give performances within his own battalion so he can concentrate on the task at hand -- recruiting potential soldiers.
"My senior leadership just wants to ensure that I'm not being sent everywhere to sing when I should be ... an Army Recruiter," he said.
He said folks are helping get his name out by distributing a compact disc he made while he was stationed at Fort Knox. It contains five of his own songs -- including a more "country" version of "We Go Together" -- and six other tunes.
"The Army has given me a route to continue my singing and still serve the Army. I'm still fulfilling my obligations and I'm getting to do it in a way that I love. (But) the Army is my priority right now," he said. "I'm honored to serve."
Buckley said he does hope to pursue a professional singing career someday. But even if he never gets a national recording contract, he said he's more than happy with the opportunities he's had, thanks to the Army. He also acknowledges that he couldn't have done any of it without the support of his wife, Kerry, and their children Coty, Connor, Baylee and Colton.