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Weekend Cover Story

Veterans use music to send a positive message

Published: 02:42PM October 31st, 2013
Veterans use music to send a positive message

Courtesy photo

Members of the New Directions Choir, with choir leader George Hill, center right, and John Hill, far right, are former service members coming together to provide a positive message through music.

Veterans from different wars have shared demons, many of which are linked to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The New Directions Choir group wants its listeners to know there’s no shame in asking for help and will share that message at Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Courage Inn Dining Facility Friday at noon.

The choir of nine veterans, spouses and family members share a positive message through music to today’s service members.

The choir earned national recognition in 2010 when they auditioned for the fifth season of TV reality show “America’s Got Talent.”

Since then, the choir has toured venues around the country with a medley of country, gospel, doo-wop and patriotic titles.

Many of the members dealt with addiction and homelessness, including former Sgt. John Hill, who was stationed at Fort Lewis in the late 1960s with the 333rd Signal Company before he was sent to Panama for training.

Later in life, drinking and other addictions led to him being kicked out of his house until he was clean and sober. Hill discovered New Directions for Veterans when his daughter found him living on the streets.

“I looked like I was dying,” Hill said.

Since 1992, New Directions has offered treatments and services for substance abuse, counseling, remedial education and money management.

Many of the veterans who go through the program find a need to become involved in something to replace their addiction.

For veterans such as Hill, music was the answer.

“Whenever I’m committed to something, it takes me out of myself,” Hill said. “When you stop drinking, you really have to find something to do with your time.”

Even after he finished the program, which usually takes anywhere from 12 to 18 months, many of the choir members stay together and perform. Hill finished the New Directions program January 2005.

It’s been a positive outlet for many, including the choir’s founder and director, George Hill.

George Hill was homeless for about 12 years before he entered the New Directions program. Singing in a choir with other veterans helped relieve the feeling of desperation.

“Not only did (singing) help us, it helped others by hearing it,” George Hill said. “The overall theme that we try to relay is that we want veterans and the military to know that there should be no stigma — do not feel there is anything wrong with trying to get help.”

Despite having been at events such as the 2000 Democratic National Convention and in front of the members of the U.S. Congress, the show at JBLM will be the first performance on a military installation.

While the choir is honored to be among today’s service members, the performance at the Lancer DFAC will be a special show for all choir members, especially for John Hill. “I want to see how much the place has changed,” he said, since it’s been about 46 years since he was last at Fort Lewis.

If you can’t make the show on base, there is another performance Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, 901 Broadway, Tacoma. Tickets are $39 with a military discount available with military ID. For information about the evening show, visit broadwaycenter.org or call 253-591-5890.

To learn more about the New Directions Veterans Choir, visit newdirectionsveteranschoir.com.