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Music to fight a war by

Actor Tom Wiggin aims to provide U.S. soldiers with personal MP3 players loaded with songs performed by military personnel and veterans.

February 15, 2010|By Yvonne Villarreal
  • COMBAT ROCK: "Sure, it's a big job," Wiggin said. "But it can be done."
COMBAT ROCK: "Sure, it's a big job," Wiggin said. "But… (Stefano Paltera / For The…)

Like many actors these days, Tom Wiggin -- best known for his 10-year run as the scheming Kirk Anderson in the CBS daytime drama "As the World Turns" -- is dabbling in music. But don't expect to hear him on the radio any time soon.

The 54-year-old's musical venture is more philanthropic than Top 40: He wants to supply every American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan with an MP3 player.

"I'm taking the American mentality on this," Wiggin said. "Sure, it's a big job. But it can be done."

He's the co-creator of Songs for Soldiers, a campaign to provide military personnel with music. Called Flatflash Duo, the flash drive -- about the size of a credit card -- transforms into an MP3 player with a simple cord converter that connects to headphones. The devices -- adorned in camouflage with the USO logo, a partner in the effort -- are even said to be combat-ready: weather resistant, shockproof and sand-proof.

"For nearly 70 years, the USO has been out entertaining our troops during war and peace times to boost morale," said Brian Whiting, president and chief executive of the USO of Metropolitan New York. "This is an extension of that. It's another form of appreciation meant to put a smile on a service member's face. To say 'Thank you.' "

The cost of the $29 players, available at www.songsforsoldiers.us or through the USO's website, is fully tax-deductible; the money is funneled through the USO, with a majority of the donation going toward manufacturing costs.

Wiggin's idea to distribute the durable devices to soldiers came about after reading “Sound Targets: American Soldiers and Music in the Iraq War,” in which author Jonathan Pieslak, an associate professor of music at City College of New York, examined the musical habits of soldiers and in contemporary American military culture in general.

"Soldiers spoke about how music kind of got them in the fighter mind-set or helped them cope with things," Pieslak said. "And they use it as a form of soldier expression, writing music that largely reflects their combat experience."

So what music to include in the players seemed like a "no-brainer," Wiggin said. The gadgets are preloaded with a large selection of music -- just not with the musical stylings of Lady Gaga or Jay-Z. Instead, the songs are original music by soldiers and veterans from the label www.tothefallenrecords.com, which produces music by military personnel. From hip-hop beats to rock-fused tracks and even country ballads, the lyrics range from patriotic to acerbic.

"Not every song has to do with war or the military," said Sean Gilfillan, chief executive and co-founder of the label and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "A lot of the common themes include love, breakups, passion . . . a range of emotions are reflected in the collection of songs."

But if a soldier wants to hear the familiar sound of an Otis Redding ditty or the tongue-twisting verses of Tupac, all it takes is a drag and click. They can upload the gadget with their own musical catalog.

"While you're out there, music serves as the soundtrack to your own movie," Gilfillan recalled. "I remember the songs I listened to while I was out there. When someone got killed in our unit, I remember listening to Gary Jewel's "Mad World" over and over again. Music has always attached meaning to a certain point in people's lives."

Celebrities such as "Today Show" news anchor Ann Curry, "Grey's Anatomy" doc Justin Chambers, "Terminator" star Linda Hamilton and football star Terrell Owens have endorsed the campaign.

"There are other initiatives and folks taking care of the first layer of need for these soldiers," Wiggin said. "Music is a need that's been overlooked for far too long. It's time to pump up the volume."

yvonne.villarreal @latimes.com

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