News: The sounds of a patriot: Soldier sings and strums the strings of morale
Story by Pfc. Nathan Thome
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A soldier’s workday can sometimes get pretty hectic, but as for the medics who work at the aid station; where a dozen different things can happen at one time, a hectic day seems pretty routine.
Even though the medics can be diagnosed as high-speed ‘work-a-holics,’ Staff Sgt. Omar Sierra-Lopez, healthcare non-commissioned officer in charge, assigned to Company C, 4th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, has just the cure for such ailments.
Sierra-Lopez plays his guitar, ‘The Red Lobster,’ teaches others how to play and sings songs for his soldiers, so they can have a moment to relax and take a break from a long day’s work.
The soldiers often join Sierra-Lopez during his jam sessions, and because he has an ear for lyrics, he can play a song after he hears it. Because of this, the soldiers usually bring him sheet music and IPods so he can play the songs while they sing the words.
“I started playing guitar when I was 12 years old, after a family friend offered to teach me and some of my friends,” said Sierra-Lopez. “I have family members who knew how to play, so that also pushed me to want to learn.”
Ever since he learned how to play, Sierra-Lopez has joined a band and started composing songs and writing music. His band would play at clubs and would always end by playing one of his songs because the people loved them so much.
“Every one of my songs is based off situations that I have had in my life,” said Sierra-Lopez. “I take these experiences, change them into something funny and put them into songs. It’s how I can tell people what has happened to me in a funny way.”
Sierra-Lopez added that when he plays a funny song, people are more likely to listen to it because they make them laugh. I use my songs as a type of counseling, so others can learn from my mistakes.
The inspiration of the Guayanilla, Puerto Rican native comes from his experiences in life. He grabs anything and everything that is happening at the moment and turns it into a funny song with a good rhythm; it’s a type of meditation he uses to clear his head.
“Sierra-Lopez has an amazing attitude about him,” said Spc. Rob Donatelli, medic, assigned to Company C, 4BSB, 1BCT, 4th Inf. Div. “He doesn’t let things get him depressed. When he sees others feeling down, he picks up his guitar and starts playing them one of his songs.”
Donatelli added that Sierra-Lopez’s number one hit on Camp Nathan Smith is his song, ‘I pray for Rum and Beer,’ which was originally sung in Spanish. It was played on the radio in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was one of his greatest hit in Puerto Rico.
Along with his musical talents, Sierra-Lopez is also an excellent teacher. For those who want to learn, he teaches people how to play the guitar. He taught some friends how to play when he was deployed to Iraq.
“Some guys I was with in Iraq wanted to learn how to play the guitar, so they went out and bought one,” said Sierra-Lopez. “I taught them how to play because they took the initiative to pick up a guitar and asked me to teach them. I can’t force anyone to play the guitar, which is why I tell them, ‘if you want to learn how to play the guitar, there it is, all you have to do is pick it up.’”
“Sierra-Lopez is a great leader, he doesn’t let whatever’s eating at him to take control and lash out,” said Donatelli. “He actually does the opposite; he grabs his guitar and either sings songs he wrote in college, or starts thinking up another song to write.”
With ‘The Red Lobster’ in hand, Sierra-Lopez is marching through his deployment in Afghanistan, and is ready to sing his way through thick and thin until he is safely back home with his loving family.
“All in all, my music is a way to escape from the military side of this deployment and give everybody a break, it serves as an outlet for the soldiers who don’t have one,” said Sierra-Lopez. “I can always find time in the day to sit outside with my soldiers and get lost in the rhythm of music and forget where we are for a while. As for some of us, that’s all we need.”