BASRA, Iraq – When the 36th Infantry Division arrived in Iraq, Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Lightsey, the band commander, was told by his 34th ID counterpart that he needed to appoint one soldier to learn the Iraqi national anthem. Fortunately, Lightsey had the perfect soldier for this mission: Spc. Carlos M. Meda of Austin, Texas.
Meda’s odyssey in music began in middle school after hearing the high school band perform and learning that he could take band as an elective class.
“When I saw them I was like, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I want to do that,’” Meda said. “And at the time I didn’t really know the difference between instruments, and my parents couldn’t afford to rent me an instrument. So the school offered me something they owned that I could rent out from them, like at no cost. Of course, it just happens to be one of the biggest instruments in there. So, I picked up the
Years later, Meda traded in his tuba for a Marine Corps uniform and headed off to basic combat training. Once his enlistment was over and he had returned home to Texas, Meda realized music was his calling and decided to continue playing.
Meda’s passion for music touched every part of his life, he said. Before joining the Marine Corps in 1998, he began playing guitar and singing professionally in a mariachi band that had been around for 20 years.
Meda joined the Texas Army National Guard in 2005 to play tuba in the band, a position he had to audition for after a six-year break from playing. But his experience and enthusiasm for the mariachi style of music carried over into his deployment here.
“I do that back home,” said Meda, “and when I got here I had no idea there was going to be so many people from Texas. So they were asking for a lot of the Tex-Mex music. I happened to be able to do some of the mariachi stuff with the band and the people here loved it.”
Although Meda had planned on playing the tuba and entertaining soldiers with his Latin style of music, he found himself with a new challenge shortly after he arrived last December.
Lightsey was told he had to assign one of his soldiers to learn the words to the Iraqi national anthem. The assigned soldier would have to perform in front of Iraqis and media at various events throughout the deployment here. With knowledge of Meda’s vocal skills, it was an easy choice for Lightsey to assign Meda this challenge.
“I asked Specialist Meda if he was up for the challenge, and he jumped at the opportunity,” said Lightsey. “To be frank, he is the only soldier deployed here that could have pulled off the Iraqi anthem vocally.”
The Iraqi national anthem’s lyrics explain what homeland means to Iraqis, Meda said.
“I spent a lot of hours trying to learn the pronunciation,” Meda said, “because I knew that I would be in public, and I did not want to present that wrong or say it wrong.”
The first time Meda performed the Iraq national anthem in front of a crowd was during a ceremony held at Camp Bucca, Iraq in December, when the base was transferred to Iraqi control. Lightsey warned Meda that many local media outlets would be attending the ceremony, but Meda wasn’t nervous about singing in front of a crowd, he said. He was more worried he would pronounce the lyrics incorrectly.
“I got there, and I was nervous of course,” said Meda. “And one of the local media reporters came up to me and he’s like, ‘I hear you’re going to be the one singing the Iraqi national anthem.’ So he told me to read it to him, and I read it to him. I’m glad he was there because he was able to fix some of the last-minute things.”
Soldiers, local media and even Iraqi government officials have complimented Meda on his heart-felt performances of the anthem.
“For example, last month we were in Muthanna province,” said Meda, “and the governor of the province came up to me (and said), ‘I heard you. I heard you, and it sounded really good. You pronounced it right.’ And I got a lot of compliments that I did it right. I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve done it about four different times.”
Meda said he has to sing the Iraq national anthem one more time during a ceremony marking the departure of the 36th ID from Iraq in September. Meda, who has been in the Army for six years, said the opportunity to sing another country’s national anthem was a rewarding challenge.
“It’s an honor. It’s a great honor,” Meda said.
Lightsey has supported Meda during every performance, and doesn’t shy away from expressing how proud he is of him.
“His work is truly a credit to the division,” Lightsey said, “the U.S. Army, and the Texas Army National Guard.”