By Samantha L. Quigley
WASHINGTON, Sep. 6, 2006 – Army Sergeant J.R. Schultz spent much of his down time in Iraq writing songs with his buddies. The endeavor paid big dividends when he entered the Dallas Songwriters Association's "Songs From the Soul of Service" amateur songwriting contest. Schultz, an Arkansas National Guardsman, submitted several original songs. "You Know Me" won him first place in the country music category, as well as the top prize, which includes a professionally produced version of the song.
"I submitted several songs, all of which were inspired by my service in Iraq," Schultz said in a biography submitted with his entries. "'You Know Me' is meant to remind people that our soldiers are not just soldiers, but they are also fathers, sons, and the kid next door." Schultz earned another first place in the novelty category with "We Hate Terrorists." Another of his tunes, "All You Gotta Do," a song inspired by a roadside bomb that took the life of a soldier in his battalion, won him second place in the pop music category.
"Songwriting definitely filled an empty space while I was away from friends and family," he said. "It not only gave me something to do, but also served as an outlet for the many emotions a soldier feels while so far away from home."
Roughly 150 aspiring songwriters submitted more than 400 songs during the first contest, William Brown, the Dallas Songwriters Association's development director, said. Three winners were chosen from each category -- country, hip-hop, instrumental, world, inspirational, pop and novelty -- with the first place song from each competing for the top prize.
Another category was established for songwriters currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan or who had done so in the past year, Brown said.
Marine Major Mike Corrado took first in the pop category and second overall with "On My Watch Tonight." Air Force Airman 1st Class C. Virgil Werley's entry "Long Gone" won the instrumental category and was voted third place over all.
The event culminated June 16 in a concert featuring the winning songs and songwriters. Army Staff Sergeant Matthew Gerson and Air Force Master Sergeant David Arsement opened the show in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood, with a number of their songs. The two servicemembers had a third place in the inspirational and country categories respectively. Arsement also picked up a second place in the Iraq/Afghanistan category.
The contest was presented in conjunction with the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights corporate and grassroots support for U.S. servicemembers and their families. The contest's organizers hoped to express their support for the military in a non-political way, according to the contest brochure.
"My hope is that we will create a serious opportunity for one or more of the songwriters from the contest," Brown said. "Some of the songs are so good that once we get them some national exposure, something good is bound to happen."
Winners of each category will be included on a compilation CD provided to radio and music industry professionals, as well as participants, Brown said.
Brown said another Songs From the Soul of Service contest is possible, but it won't be next year. "We want to run the contest again, but we'll likely skip a year," he said. "I want to spend some time and effort promoting the songs and songwriters from this first contest before moving on to another one."