Human beings are remarkable creatures. Despite whatever adversity is thrown in front of us, we always seem to find a way to get through it. Maybe music was invented to help that process. We’ll never know the original intent behind it, but as evidenced by the story we were told from fan Elijah Licano, music serves a purpose far beyond the notes and the silence that falls between them.
The e-mail we received from Elijah tells of events unimaginable to the everyday citizen, a horrific story of events that took place in the Iraq War.
It was in February of 2005, that I bear witness to the marring effect’s war leaves within the modern warrior. The fear of death was inevitable in the heat of the moment. Traveling in an un-armored Humvee, I was fourth from the rearmost vehicle in the convoy. My Lieutenant, Brian Genau occupied the rear of our convoy. We traveled in this order until the Lt’s vehicle became a target. It was the beginning of a long year for most of the soldiers in that convoy.
I heard radio transmission stating one of our vehicles had been struck by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Moments after the chatter, every vehicle instinctively surrounded the incapacitated Hummer, resembling stars in orbit around a massive black hole. One of the first to the wreckage was our medic, tending to a critically wounded soldier. I glanced over to my right and noticed Lt. Genau lifeless with a redundant IV protruding from his arm, shifting the solution in the IV bag to a bloody tint.
As Brian lay there deceased, I became full of rage and sadness trying to aid the medic with the soldier that had become mangled and bloodied from the impact and rolling of the vehicle. I noticed he had a broken right leg and splinted the fracture as the medic frantically tried to comfort the severely injured soldier.
My hands trembled as I attempted to load a magazine of 30 rounds into my assault rifle looking to clear the landing zone for the medevac. I surveyed the distant outstretches of desert landscape in hopes of locating the trigger man either to eliminate or to capture the individual who murdered my friends.
With no enemy in sight, I zeroed in on the chaos, standing there angrily, looking for someone to blame. My squad leader Hayes notices my discomfort and approached my position. “I know you’re mad,” he said, “So focus that anger on the enemy, and not yourself.” I never quite understood what he meant until many years after that day. Personally, I think he meant for me retain my emotions enough not to become complacent with feeling responsible or helpless. Moments after he spoke to me, I heard massive pulsating helicopter blades getting louder and churning sand in its wake.
Elijah would look back and consider this incident to be the pinnacle of his war experience. After witnessing the loss of his friend in such sudden and dramatic fashion, it became impossible to use disassociation as a sanity device to cope with the horrors around him. In fact, the gravity of his situation became clearer than ever: his friend was robbed from his family and Elijah’s family awaited
When I had time to think about it, which wasn’t much, I realized who they were on the ground and who I’d lost and I just kept thinking about my kids and my family at home and their kids and their families and the things I used to take for granted like swinging my son on the set or throwing the ball even though he couldn’t catch it.
After that incident, Elijah was placed in the front of the convoy and swore he would never let something like that happen under his watch. True to his resolve, he made it through the rest of his time as a soldier without losing another comrade in arms.
One thing that provided sanity throughout the incessant heat, the day-to-day uncertainty and the unpredictable bouts of combat was music, namely the songs of Tech N9ne. Elijah breaks down the transformative effect that Tech’s music would have on him and the other troops:
I’d play “Midwest Choppers” and things would get good for everybody around us. It was just good vibes. It was always good vibes. How we could kind of forget that I was getting shot at sometimes or blown up. It was always good. Everything about it was good. The bad stuff, the good stuff, I could relate to it, I could understand it. It wasn’t the losing your dog under your four wheel, not to stereotype country or anything, I just don’t relate to that. I relate to what Strange has to offer and still to this day I do.
Luckily Elijah made it through the gunfire, explosions and the daily question of “Fan or Foe?” to return home and raise his children in peace…well, relative peace. The residual effects of combat and the survival instincts that were hardwired into his psyche often present difficulties in commonplace situations. All it takes is a door slam for Elijah’s combat reactions to kick into full gear:
I’ll be upstairs for instance and if the garage door is open and someone comes in there’s a clear airway so the door slams really loud and shakes the house. If I’m sleeping or awake I instantly think “car bomb,” because when a car went off about 300 yards away, you could feel it while you’re sleeping and you can hear it. Doors when they slam I think it’s a little bomb somewhere. A tire shredded for instance off of a semi when I was in Colorado and I had to have my buddy pull over because I was freaking out. It’s not anything that I’m ashamed of it’s just something I can’t control. I don’t know how to control it.
The post-combat stress and disorder was something that was captured so aptly in Tech N9ne’s song “The Noose” from Tech N9ne Collabos – Welcome To Strangeland. When Elijah heard the song he, like so many soldiers beside him, related to the song immediately.
When I first listened to “The Noose”, the experience brought so many emotions out. Tears, happiness. Everything he says I can relate to and he went on the line. I feel like he put his career, name, reputation out there on the line. Most people don’t like to support the troops. Some people do it. Either way Tech is the kind of guy who’s going to do whatever the fuck he wants. Aaron Yates is the bomb and I like the way he approaches his music because he doesn’t hold anything back unless he has to and there’s not really much he holds back. It brought a lot of sad memories and a lot of sad things but it also exposed a lot of stuff, if you’re not a soldier it exposes you to that. I can recite the whole song. It’s one of my favorites. The song constantly brings tears to my eyes. Let’s just put it that way.
When asked what he would say to Tech N9ne, Elijah had this to say:
I would just tell him to keep up the good work. Do what you do because it makes people in bad spots do good things. I’m a parent of three and my parents know who Tech is and I’m going to spread Tech’s goodness around. That’s what I’d tell him. I’m proud of him and I’m glad he is who he is and there ain’t a person else I think that could do what he’s done in my life. For me I think that means a lot.
For some reason, Strange fills a void in my life that seems indescribable. Despite my children and the things one should find fulfilling, I’m left questions and regrets. The music lets me know I’m not alone.
Much love to Elijah Licano for sharing his story with us
and to all the soldiers for their bravery and sacrifice.
- – Do you have any friends that have served in combat? How did that experience affect them?
- – Did you know about the effects of post-combat stress as Elijah described?
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