By Spc. Sophia R. Lopez
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – In an open area of the room, Spc. Thomas Hairston steps up to a microphone, preparing for lyrics to light up in front of him on a television. The music starts, and Hairston begins to sing at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation center on Camp Victory.
Hairston goes to karaoke night at MWR 124 on Tuesdays from 2000-2400 to get away every now and then, and because he enjoys singing.
"I've been singing since I was knee high to my momma," said the Winston-Salem, N.C., native. He hadn't been to karaoke in a while, and after seeing the posters at the gym and the dining facility, he decided to get out and find an escape.
Jose Bribiescas, the MWR coordinator, started karaoke night a year ago to boost the morale of the service members.
"It's a way for Soldiers to relieve stress," Bribiescas said. "It's fun at the same time. You don't need to know how to sing to do karaoke."
Bribiescas, a Houston native, came to Iraq in 2004. He was initially here serving a one-year contract but decided to stay longer to serve the troops.
"You get used to being around the Soldiers," he said. "I like being here when they say they aren't coming back," he said with a chuckle, knowing that he'll still be here when some of them show up again on their next tour of duty.
Gil Garcia, a logistician with General Dynamics, helped Bribiescas with karaoke nights. Garcia, a Vashon Island, Wash., native, has been a karaoke disc jockey in the States for 17 years. He enjoyed singing karaoke so much he sought a place to do it here.
When the original host went on a mission, Garcia was asked to stand in for him. Eventually, it became his own, "additional duty."
"This is my way of giving back to the Soldiers for what they are doing for me and my family back home," Garcia said. He said he believes karaoke is a good way for Soldiers to blow off steam and relax.
The scene in the room confirms Garcia's beliefs. As the music dies down and the song comes to an end, the crowd cheers and applauds; Hairston smiles and puts down the mic. He walks back to his seat, and the next singer is called. Service members and civilians sit around relaxing, immersed in conversation until the music fills the air again.