The chattering in the Swartz Auditorium dies down as an eclectic group of students begins to set up on stage. As the emcee introduces the next act, she remarks that this is one of the largest groups to ever perform at a Carlisle High School Coffeehouse, eyeing the eight individuals who are taking their positions with their instruments and microphones. After brief applause, Solomon "DJ" McCoy grabs his microphone.
"Hello! We are S.O.B," he says, then stops. "Oh, probably shouldn't say that," he amends innocently, prompting laughter from his bandmates.
The Coffeehouse program showcases the diverse musical and poetic talents of the students of Carlisle High School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Much of this diversity comes from the school's small but mighty military population from the U.S. Army War College just down the road.
DJ McCoy has been stationed at Carlisle Barracks since the beginning of his freshman year in mid 2018. Although he had previously performed at Coffeehouse as a solo act, he decided to form his own band for the second show of the 2019-2020 school year.
"Basically, I wanted to do the winter show, and [the Coffeehouse adviser] told me that I might want to play in a band," DJ explains, "I was like, 'Shoot, I don’t think anyone would want to be in a band with me.'"
Despite these initial fears, DJ was soon able to assemble a ragtag ensemble consisting of two singers, two drummers, a trumpet player, saxophonist, guitarist, and himself on the keyboard. Definitely not the typical guitar, bass, and vocals mix you typically see at Coffeehouse.
But DJ was intentional with the people he chose to join the band; every single member was a military brat associated with the War College, hence their name "Straight Outta Barracks." (Carlisle Barracks is the installation that houses the War College)
The son of an army logistics officer, DJ has lived in Baltimore, Virginia, California, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., Louisiana, Texas, New York, Georgia, Colorado, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania, and will be moving to New Jersey over the summer. He says that his band was able to bond because of their similar experiences, and that the knowledge that they would soon be forced to part drew them closer together. "We all started to get closer because we’re military, we never know how much time we’ll have together. After the show, everyone was sobbing, everyone was sad that the show was over. I was like 'we'll do it again' but we never really know."
For most military families at the War College, their time in Carlisle is limited to a one year assignment, meaning that military teens have to go through that year with the knowledge that they will soon have to move on. But that doesn't stop people like DJ from getting involved and investing in their school and community.
Despite some difficulties throughout their rehearsals, Straight Outta Barracks managed to pull through and field a successful performance at the January Coffeehouse. They even performed a set of all original songs, inspired by the tough lifestyles they lead.
"Military life has influenced my musical abilities because I move almost all over the world so I get tons of different experiences from tons of different people," says DJ. "So when I write my music I can combine all these different experiences into my music. I've gone through things other people haven't so I get to incorporate that into my music as well."
The band's two vocalists sung about the struggles of military life, mourned the difficulty of maintaining a romantic relationship, and celebrated the good times that can be had while the instrumentalists played exciting accompaniments in their three song set. The audience went wild at the end of their performance, sending them off with enthusiastic screams and applause.
Straight Outta Barracks brought the trials and tribulations of military life to the community through their music, but also showed the beautiful bonds of friendship that can be created despite the hardships.
Like many of us, DJ has mixed emotions about being a military kid. "It sucks, but it’s awesome at the same time. I get to meet so many people, I get to brag about moving all over the place."
He also enjoys the fact that he can easily move away from and forget about people he doesn't particularly care for. "Some of us get so attached to our lives and places. It’s going to hurt a lot when you realize, 'Oh my God, I have to go!'"
Thankfully, even though we have to leave, we can still have unforgettable friends and experiences that shape who we are and make the hardships of moving incredibly worth it. It's even more rewarding when you're the one who helped create those experiences, like DJ did for his band.
Do you know a military teen who is doing great things in their community? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share their story!