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Face of Defense: Singing Soldier Knows About Second Chances

By Army Pfc. J.P. Lawrence
Special to American Forces Press Service

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, June 5, 2009 – Army Spc. Cleon Shack stood in the shadows near the stage, waiting on his second chance.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Cleon Shack performs in Round 2 of “Basra Idol,” a music contest at Contingency Operating Base Basra, Iraq, May 23, 2009. Shack was one of three finalists to make it to the final round. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. J.P. Lawrence

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

A week before, Shack and eight others had entered “Basra Idol,” a music competition for servicemembers here. Shack had sung “Midnight Lover,” a song he and his brother wrote, a song that featured such lyrics as “I want to do freaky things to you -- freaky, freaky things.”

He didn’t make the cut.

But now that one of the contestants was going on leave, there was a chance -- a good chance -- he could sneak into this round as a replacement.

“Practice,” the judges had told him. “You may be able to sing, you might not. Just come. If they let you sing, if they let you perform, be ready. Just come prepared.” And so he waited, ready to perform. He just wanted a second chance.

Then again, Shack knows a thing or two about second chances.

“I had a full scholarship to Albany State University,” said Shack, a native of Columbus, Ga. He was a linebacker. But when his brothers ran into trouble and got into an altercation, he said, “I made the decision to go home to back them up.”

The situation escalated, and guns came into play. “I ended up getting caught with a firearm,” Shack said. His scholarship was long gone, but the courts decided to give him a choice. As a result, two of his charges were reduced to misdemeanors on the condition that he join the military.

The Army became his second chance. “Without the Army,” the 178th Military Police Company mechanic said, “I probably would have had time in jail, and I would have had a felony on my record.”

The show was about to begin when the master of ceremonies, Army Sgt. 1st Class James Cookman, approached Shack. “Are you comfortable with performing tonight?” he asked. Shack was very comfortable performing that night. The last time he was on stage, he said, he was “in a rush, trying to get it over with.” The second performance saw a calmer, cooler Shack.

“I kinda calmed down,” he said, “because I knew the song. I knew R. Kelly.”

As he ran through R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” the crowd, which seemed to know all the words, began singing along with him as his voice flew and soared. The judges took notice of the crowd’s reaction, and when the final scores had been tallied, Shack had a ticket to the finals.

“I was kind of shocked,” said Shack, who had enrolled in Basra Idol to join his friend, Army Spc. Russell Dudley, in the competition. “I thought for sure Dudley would have made it.”

The judges invited Dudley and all the other eliminated contestants to sing at the final round next week, where one of them will get a second chance to win it all.

Shack knows that if not for a fellow contestant going on leave, he would not be in the finals. And he also knows that if he hadn’t received a second chance back home, he would be in jail.

“I can’t honestly say everyone deserves a second chance,” he said, “but in certain situations, they are given. If you’re ever given a second chance, just take advantage of it.”

(Army Pfc. J.P. Lawrence serves with Multinational Division South.)

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Multinational Corps Iraq

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