Former soldier trades rifle for guitar to help wounded warriors
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Held back from a downrange deployment after suffering a back injury during training, Army Spc. Justin List came face to face with soldiers who had sacrificed so much, paying the price with missing limbs, facial injuries and serious burns.
Doctors at the Fort Bragg hospital where he was treated told the psychological operations soldier that with all of the traumatic injuries they were seeing, he wasn’t going to get well in the Army because they were overwhelmed with bigger problems, so he got out in 2006.
But the faces of the wounded soldiers haunted him. So List turned from a rifle to a guitar, and within two years, he had started a band called Rally Point, which includes fellow servicemembers. With a primary goal of raising money for the injured troops who inspired him in rehabilitation — three-quarters of the group’s proceeds go to the USO and the Wounded Warrior Project to fund recreation and family activities — the band has just released a potent rock album of Army-themed “marching songs” titled “Hooah.”
So far, they have raised over $1,000 through performances as well as album and iTunes sales.
“It’s a small drop in the bucket, but it’s the best way I know to contribute,” said List, now a 32-year-old high school Spanish teacher in Kentucky.
They’re scheduled to play Wednesday in Cincinnati, where attendees can hear tracks List’s buddies cranked out using loudspeakers in Iraq. And they expect to hit the road soon with hopes of raising more money.
List grew up in what he called the “hillbilly” town of Ripley, Ohio, and knew from a very early age that he wanted to join the Army. After enlisting, he was focused and deeply spiritual, friends said. He studied Arabic and trained in the art of psychological warfare.
List claims he was the platoon clown, but his fellow soldiers say he was in great shape, always setting the pace on runs and marches, singing the marching songs in a way-too-motivated manner, often changing the words to suit the situation of the “30-man a cappella.”
“It was easy to find Justin in a run,” said former Army Sgt. Matthew Cretul, one of List’s best friends and a former neighbor in the Fort Bragg barracks. “He’d be out front, calling cadence. His athletic ability allowed him to have some fun while he was calling, and his sense of humor led to making a terrible slog at an ungodly hour as decently bearable as they could be.”
List didn’t stop with marches. He also sang and wrote music, entertaining friends and fellow soldiers, and performed at open-mike nights at local haunts. His singing talents also were apparent to friends during karaoke sessions, Cretul said.
So no one was surprised when List got into music after the Army.
“If I can’t be blowing stuff up, the next best thing is playing guitar,” he said.
He recently added friend and bassist Stephen Strunk to the group, along with drummer Otis Kokensparger, a retired Marine Corps sergeant major at Camp Lejeune.
List hopes to eventually build the band up to include a member from each branch of service and record an album for each one, serving his brothers-in-arms for years to come.
“Our wounded and fallen veterans are true heroes,” Kokensparger said. “This country would not be what it is today without the personal sacrifices that they have made. We will always be in their debt, forever.”
The band sells its album and accepts donations for wounded warriors at www.rallypointzero.com/.