Josh Revaks life changed in a flash in June 2006 while he was escorting a tank in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. A 120 mm mortar exploded feet from where the U.S. Army private and his friend, fellow soldier and roommate, Sgt. Terry Lisk, were standing. Lisk took the brunt of the blast and was killed.
He fell right next to me, recalls Revak, now 27, who suffered shrapnel through one ankle and shattered bones in his right foot. He spent months recovering in a hospital in Germany before he was medically discharged and sent home to the states. But he survived.
Revak, who now lives in Ham Lake, Minn. (pop. 12,710), lost more than one friend in Iraq. But he found an outlet for the pain of war in his guitar and voice, and a new friend in Sean Gilfillan, the founder of To The Fallen Records, a new label devoted to showcasing the talents of musicians who are current or former members of the U.S. military.
Gilfillan, a former U.S. Army captain who served 15 months in Iraq and received a Bronze Star, runs the small company with a partner, Sidney DeMello, in Newport, R.I., (pop. 26,475). To The Fallen has released three compilations of songs in different genresrap, rock and countryduring the last year. The label is politically neutral, Gilfillan says, and its only goal is to provide a voice for musicians who have served their country.
Its not about politics, its about music is written across the top of the labels website, www.tothefallenrecords.com. Part of the proceeds from the sale of each To The Fallen CD goes to various veterans organizations.
Gilfillan and DeMello took the name for the company from the words in a large tattoo on Gilfillans back, which he had created to honor his comrades who died in Iraq.
Soldiers arent always comfortable talking about their experiences, DeMello says. But when they make music, it opens a dialogue and gives us a whole different perspective into their daily lives, how they feel and think.
Theyre proud of their service, Gilfillan says of the artists, like Revak, whove contributed original songs rooted in their military experience, to the CDs. I think its a very important thing that especially veterans are allowed freedom of expression. Theyve fought for it.
Revaks contribution to the country compilation is a song called Empty Boots, a tribute to a friend killed 44 days after he was injured in Ramadi. The lyrics speak of a memorial service and the void a death creates, and a promise to remember: Before you fade away / Let your voice be heard / Every silent word you say.
Retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joel Port, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, contributed Come Over, a fierce call to arms for soldiers preparing to deploy, to the labels first rock CD. This was the one song I knew I wanted to write about my experience, says Port, 30, from his home in Baltimore, where he fronts a rock band called JP & The Shadows.
Gilfillan, 28, plans to release three albums a year. He estimates he gets 20 or more song submissions a day by e-mail or through the labels MySpace page on the Internet.
To start the label, he took out a home-equity loan, used personal savings and borrowed from family and friends who believed in the cause. He politely declines to provide details about how much To The Fallen has cost him personally, but he says it was worth the risk. There are worse things in life than being broke, Gilfillan says.
The label is cathartic not just for its artists but for Gilfillan, too. Seven of his friends died in military service, and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after leaving active duty in 2006. He found it difficult to work for someone else after returning to the United States and wanted a job that provided more than a paycheck.
It changes your priorities, Gilfillan says of serving in a combat zone. You definitely look at your mortality and your legacy. My friends died over there. I want to make them proud.