AFGHANISTAN -- Stryker Soldiers escape through their native tunes.
For many people in many cultures, music is an important part of their way of life and music has been a way for some Stryker Soldiers to put their minds at ease while deployed to Afghanistan. Two Soldiers from 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Spc. Vincent Cruz of Yoña, Guam and Spc. Landrew Sappa of the island of Aua, Pago Pago, American Samoa brought a little "peace" of home with them. Sappa and Cruz are from two different islands but share a common interest in playing the ukulele.
On some days while taking a break Cruz and Sappa play the ukulele to relax and "mellow out." The music usually draws a crowd of listeners.
Many people associate the instrument's sound with the islands and rightfully so. The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian interpretation of a small guitar-like instrument brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants. The word "ukulele" means "jumping flea" in Hawaiian.
The ukulele, sometimes abbreviated as "uke," is a chordophone classified as a plucked lute. It is a subset of the guitar family generally made of wood and having four strings.
"I play [the ukulele] because it helps to relieve stress and it reminds me of home," Sappa said, who started playing when he was five years old. "I enjoyed seeing my brothers and sisters play when I was growing up."
Sappa dreamed of flying airplanes in the military as a child. Sappa joined the U.S. Army in 1997, chose a different path and his priorities shifted, leaving the ukulele behind.
"I joined the military and stopped playing for 13 years until I saw Cruz playing and started to pick it up again," said Sappa.
Cruz has been playing a soprano ukulele for about a year. He had his wife send it to him from back home. Cruz said he carries it with him most of the time. Though he's an accomplished player, he has never considered playing professionally.
"I play for fun and to kick back," said Cruz. "I'm still learning. I'm teaching myself to play. Every time we see someone from the islands we go and see how they play and start picking it up little by little."
The first song Cruz learned was "Over the Rainbow."
The ukulele is becoming increasingly popular after a decline following the 1960's. In the late 1990s interest reappeared. The ukulele's popularity has not only spread across the Pacific, but also the Atlantic, according to Wikipedia.
Little kids are also learning to play.
"I have a son that will be two years old this year, said Sappa. "I will teach him to play the ukulele in a year or two."
His son says, "Mama, song," to his mother when he wants to hear Sappa play his favorite song "Over the Rainbow." Sappa said it makes him sleepy, which he likes.
When deployment stresses weigh heavy, many Soldiers seek escape through things that remind them of home. For Cruz and Sappa that escape flows through the strumming of a ukulele's four familiar strings. It is the way they relax and reconnect with the place they left behind. Afghanistan holds no pristine beaches and boasts no palm tree groves, but for these two Soldiers, home is just four strings away.