Pensacola veterans finding healing through song
By MELISSA NELSON GABRIEL
Feb. 18, 2017
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Nashville songwriter Bob Regan has written hit songs for well-known stars including Keith Urban, Trisha Yearwood and Tanya Tucker.
But those songs aren't the ones that have meant the most to the Grammy-nominated artist.
Regan is proudest of dozens of songs that will likely never become mainstream hits — songs of pain and loss written by combat veterans through Operation Song, a nonprofit organization he created to connect veterans with professional songwriters.
"The veterans bring the stories and we bring the songwriting experience. All of the songwriters we use are pros who have been at this for many years and decades. We sit in a room together, listen to their stories, pick out pieces and make it rhyme," he said.
"It can be very therapeutic. If your emotions and your experiences are scrambled from trauma, sometimes it is difficult to put things in their proper perspective and to sort them out. Through songwriting, the jumble of feelings gets a beginning, an end, a resolution."
The result is a song like Fight For Me, written by Tim Chandler, a Pensacola-area Marine veteran who survived an IED blast during combat in Iraq. Regan and award-winning songwriter Don Goodman helped Chandler come up with the emotional song that tells the story of his return from war, subsequent divorce and difficult child custody battle.
"I fought for you to keep this country free, now won't somebody please fight for me," he asks in the song, which describes how his scars from the courtroom are more frightening than his scars from war.
Chandler said the songwriting process helped him sort through many complicated emotions related to his war experience and his failed marriage.
He collaborated with the professional songwriters and came up with Fight For Me during the annual Frank Brown International Songwriter's Festival in 2015. The large festival, which is more than 30 years old, has venues stretching from Gulf Shores, Alabama, through the Pensacola area. Last year, Chandler and fellow Pensacola veteran Janet Keiser worked with festival songwriters on another song, 22 A Day.
The new song tackles the high suicide rate among military veterans, estimated by experts to be 22 a day.
"He'd won his battle on the field. Lost the one back home. With guilt, pills and pain, lonely in his bones," is one verse of the gritty song.
Keiser, an Army veteran, kept a journal while she was deployed to Iraq in 2003. Since then, she has written short stories and poetry.
Operation Song contacted Keiser after she submitted one of her poems to a veteran's website. She and Chandler and Regan worked together to create 22 A Day.
For both Chandler and Keiser, the song was a personal tribute to fellow veterans lost to suicide as well as a message of encouragement to those struggling with addiction, depression and other issues.
"There are so many veterans that do commit suicide and a lot more that think about it," Keiser said.
The song urges people to find a way to "break the chain" of 22 a day.
Chandler said it is a daily battle.
"People think that when you come home your war is over, but it is far from over," he said.
Regan said songs like Fight For Me and 22 A Days are often not the most commercially popular because they are complicated and dark.
"When you are writing for a mainstream market, sometimes it is fluff. You want something that is quick and gratifying and satisfying in a short amount of time," he said.
But Regan has gotten calls from representatives of well-known artists interested in performing some of the veteran-written songs.
More importantly, he said, Operation Song has helped dozens of veterans including Chandler and Keiser.
"I hear from our songwriters all the time that the best day they have spent songwriting was the time they spent with the veterans. It is a responsibility we take very seriously because we know we might be walking with them through an emotional minefield. These songs have touched a lot people and it is gratifying," he said.