by Adrianna Paidas
Sergeant Corrin Campbell is a rock star in the United States Army. Literally. Campbell, who first joined the U.S. Army 10 years ago and is still an active-duty solider, just finished touring with Vans Warped Tour over the summer performing on behalf of Army Musical Outreach. She is the only musician to be sponsored by the Army, a dream job of sorts as she’s always wanted to play music for a living, but she never knew she’d evolve into an indie musician through the help of the U.S. armed forces.
Now a rock artist, soldier and combat veteran, Campbell’s mission is simple: show the world that the Army isn’t just soldiers in combat. It is a foundation to building oneself, one’s character and one’s work ethic, and it’s helped her grow into not only a confident adult, but also a driven musician.
“I don’t know if I ever would have developed the kind of work ethic that it takes to survive as an independent artist if it weren’t for the Army because you’re a soldier twenty-four-seven. You have to be ready at any moment to work,” Campbell says. “I’m not sure I would have been as resourceful and as motivated and as driven if I hadn’t of learned how to push through discomfort in the Army.”
After graduating high school unfulfilled and unsure of the route she wanted to take in life, Campbell, a Duluth, Minnesota native, joined the U.S. Army as a musician. She started out playing bass in the Army band and then picked up vocals. Musician duties aside, Campbell still had to go through basic training like every other solider. This initial training was grueling and daunting and prompted Campbell to second guess herself and her decision to enlist. But in the end, it’s these first days that whipped her into shape as a solider and later as an indie musician.
‘It wasn’t that dramatic looking back, but at the time it was like I didn’t feel like I signed up for this kind of thing,” she says of her time in basic training. “But there are times when we have to step up and take initiative and do the correct thing when there is no one there to instruct you, and that’s what that training was for. The essence of learning to follow so that you can lead…The strongest leaders are the ones who can make that decision even if there is no one there that’s telling you what to do.”
This strength and self assurance is paramount as an independent artist, she says. As an indie musician, there’s no record label doing things for you. It’s up to the artists to create their music and chase the big breaks. Just like in the Army, long hours and thick skin come with the territory.
Campbell toured the continental United States, Korea and Cuba with the Army Band. From 2004 to 2005 she deployed to Baghdad with the First Cavalry Division in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Serving as the lead vocalist for the rock band and bass player for the Latin band, she performed for troops all over Iraq, even opening for Ted Nugent and Toby Keith.
But just because she was in Iraq to play music for her fellow soldiers, didn’t mean she was immune to the effects of a war torn country. Explosives could combust out of nowhere; grenades could drop from above at any moment.
“When you get in direct fire, that’s especially scary, because you don’t know where it’s coming from, you don’t know where it’s going to go, and you don’t know how many times it’s going to happen,” Campbell says. “You just have to take cover and find your fellow soldiers, and account for everyone, and make sure everyone’s OK.”
Campbell never had to fire her weapon during her year-long deployment in Baghdad, but It was terrifying moments like when she heard a grenade make its way through the air unsure of where it would land, when she would again rethink her decision to enter the Army. But then she’d play music for all of the other worn-out, homesick troops and she’d remember her purpose: to make them feel at ease through the power of music—to heal if only for a short time.
After she returned from Iraq, Campbell was able to focus on her music career. She toured with her band, performing from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to 6th Street in Austin, Texas. She even opened the Lilith Fair Revival in Columbia, Maryland, which included performances by Sara McLachlan, the Indigo Girls, and Sara Bareilles among others. Soon, she was garnering comparisons to Paramore and Evanescence.
As Campbell’s career as a rock artist progressed, the U.S. Army offered her an opportunity to be the featured performer of Army Musical Outreach., which is her job today. Fresh off about 40 shows on the 2015 Warped Tour, Campbell continues to rock the stage while sharing her story and representing her country. The thought of moving up in rank has crossed her mind, but it’s not a priority, she says, until it prevents her from doing her job.
There are times when it would be easier to connect with fans without the pressure to uphold the Army’s reputable image. But then she remembers what the Army’s done for her and what it can do for her fans.
“It’s a really great way to expose yourself to all the possibilities of people and opinions,” Campbell says, “And then find your own way in it; and feel the strength from your training and from your experience to pick what you want to wind up with and follow that path.”