By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Dec. 21, 2007) -- In keeping with the holiday season, musician John Ondrasik sends the gift of music to Soldiers overseas and stateside.
The album "For the Troops," released Nov. 27, is a compilation that features music from such acts as Billy Joel, Brooks & Dunn, Los Lonely Boys, Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan, as well as Mr. Ondrasik's own "Five for Fighting."
About 200,000 copies of the album were put on compact disc -- many given directly to service members during United Service Organization tours featuring Mr. Ondrasik. But the music from the album is also available for download on the Army Air Force Exchange Service website at www.aafes.com. The music is free for service members.
Mr. Ondrasik said he was inspired to put the album together for service members after having been asked to participate in something similar by other musicians.
"I was actually asked to write a forward to and contribute a song to a group of local musicians who were sending music to people in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "I thought, what a great idea; so I got out my Rolodex and called a few friends in the music industry. Six months later, here we are with the CD."
While Mr. Ondrasik said he personally has no connection to the military, he is grateful for the freedoms uniformed members of the military protect.
"As a songwriter, I make my living on freedom of speech," he said. "The troops ensure that freedom for me, and for my kids. So I do have an appreciation for freedoms and liberty as a songwriter."
Mr. Ondrasik has performed for military members in such places as Japan and Guam, as well as locations stateside. The location that had the most impact on him, however, was Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba -- also known as "Gitmo."
"Gitmo was an education for me, to look through the fence and see the Cuban guards, to see dirt not free, to have beers with the guards who guard the detainees and to sing on Cuban shores 100 yards from Camp Delta," he said. "All that stuff brings reality to your face."
Following USO shows, Mr. Ondrasik hands out the compilation CD to concertgoers. He says military members are always impressed with the array of music on the album.
"Their first response is are they really the real singers," he said. "They can't believe it's the real artists. But look at artists we have. These are some of most popular artists, with the biggest hits, to be given for free as a thank you to the military, and the troops love it. Their families love it. Music has the power to be a powerful force for morale and mental health, and it's exciting to see their reaction."
While military members may be impressed with the collection of songs on "For the Troops," Mr. Ondrasik himself remains impressed with what Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines do for a living.
"What astounds me is they are humble," he said. "They think they are just doing their job. But that's a job few of us civilians could do. To say they are doing an amazing job is understatement."