Bluefield, WV native making music in Iraq

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

News story photo
First Sergeant Frank Barlow
BLUEFIELD, WV – America’s military has great variety of equipment and specialists conducting operations in Iraq, but a heavy metal band usually isn’t what comes to mind.

Thousands of Americans are serving in Iraq during this Fourth of July holiday. While the people back home are going to family reunions, military personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations across the world will mark the occasion while they continue to serve their country. Among them are people who call West Virginia and Virginia home. Army 1st Sgt. Frank Barlow of Bluefield, WV is one of them.

Now 36, Barlow joined the Army soon after he graduated from Bluefield High School in 1992.

“I initially joined the military to do something different,” he said by telephone from Iraq. “I grew up in West Virginia, so I wanted to go out and see what else the world had to offer and have some adventure. I’m in the Army Band as well, so I could continue to play the trumpet. I’ve been playing since I was 10. It’s a dream come true to get to do what you love to do and get paid for it.”

Now in the ninth month of his first deployment to Iraq, Barlow is serving with the 3rd Infantry Division Band.

“We’re in the northern part of Iraq outside of Tikrit. I’m the senior enlisted advisor to the band commander.”

The 3rd Infantry Division Band is a by-request unit that can do traditional American music that is expected at military functions, but the unit has acts such as a jazz band, and one group that’s usually not what the average civilian would expect.

“We have our heavy metal band,” Barlow said. “(It may) be the only one in the Army arsenal that we’re aware of right now.”

A new heavy metal group was born in Iraq when four of the division band’s junior enlisted soldiers formed the band on their own time, he recalled. The commander overheard the results and liked their sound.

Thus, “The Four Horsemen of the Arockalypse” was born. The band comes as a real and pleasant surprise for younger personnel who expect to hear traditional music when they hear the term “Army band.”

“The actual war fighters on the ground, these guys are 18 to 20 years old,” Barlow explained. “When we go out, it really shocks them. We pull no punches.”

The Horsemen arrive for a concert with the huge speakers and other implements expected from heavy metal.

“They rock the house, and they’re pretty amazing,” Barlow said. “(The Horsemen) are not what they expect when they hear an Army band is coming. We try to get the word out that the Army band is always changing...and doing something the soldiers actually want to hear.”

In other duties, the division (band) performs at ribbon cutting ceremonies and other functions of that nature, Barlow said. Tribal leaders and sheiks attend, and the band plays popular tunes that young people and children can enjoy.

“We interact with the kids and they’re very receptive,” he said. “They’re not used to that sort of interaction with the military. We like to go out and speak the international language of music.”

When an American holiday such as the Fourth of July arrives, the division (band) plays a major role in that recognition. Big name bands from home come to perform for the people serving their country in places thousands of miles from home, and the division (band) joins in.

“We’re providing our rock band to open for Vertical Horizon, which is a popular alternative band,” Barlow said.

Entertainment from home is an important way to sustain morale, but being able to speak with friends and loved ones at home is helpful, too. Current technology makes regular contact possible.

“Personally, I speak to my wife (Rachel) every day I’m at my home base,” Barlow said. A system available in stores back home plugs into his computer for telephone calls.

“She can call me and I can call her as long as I’m in the room. We’re utilizing the best of technology,” he said “It’s definitely a morale booster. My Dad (Jimmie Barlow) and my sister (Melissa) didn’t have this when they went into Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.”

Another way to boost morale is for the people back in the United States to remember the men and women serving across the world.

“For me, I just want them to remember that we do have thousands of soldiers deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and all around the world,” Barlow said. “Freedom isn’t free. Sons and daughters are defending that freedom and making sure our way of life isn’t disrupted.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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