By John Austinfirstname.lastname@example.org
— The photo of a woman with the stars and stripes streaming behind her on a compact disc cover may well be worth 1,000 words.
But you have to listen to “American” to get AshliDawn Turner’s whole story.
A formally trained singer who studied voice at Howard Payne University, the Joshua resident took the family route instead of going pro.
Now, thanks to new romance, money from friends and a batch of patriotic songs, Turner is calling her own tune.
“I feel alive,” she said. “I’m on fire.”
The project took shape when Turner’s fiance, National Guard Lt. Tom Bradshaw, was shipped to Afghanistan in April 2011.
“I cried many nights,” said Turner, who was rearing a young son by herself while she waited for her fiance to return. “I was lonely during the days.”
But Turner realized she wasn’t the only one waiting.
“You do not have the support that other branches have on their bases,” when you’re in National Guard because members’ families live at home, not on base, Turner said. “They’ll come home to no homes, no wives.
“It causes so much stress. I want to raise awareness of what the National Guard goes through.”
Turner’s original songs, such as “Through the War,” poured out as she cleaned house or drove.
“It’s patriotic, jazz, blues, gospel all through it,” said Turner, 41, of the CD. “To me, it’s all about God and country.”
The songs might have stayed inside Turner’s head — she doesn’t play an instrument or write music and composes by ear — if Sherry Hodges, the wife of a soldier in her fiance’s Guard company, hadn’t heard her sing at church.
The enthusiasm translated into financial backing for a 10-song recording session at Patrick McGuire Studios in Arlington: $13,000 worth of engineering, musicianship and arrangements.
The songs had a special resonance for Hodges; her Guardsman husband has been sent abroad five times.
Hodges prayed over whether to put her savings into the project, consulted the music director at her church, then went ahead. She’s lived some of the things Turner’s music.
“A lot of times, when they first come home,” from military deployments, Hodges said, “it’s like a stranger.”
And when the soldiers are away, even routine things like handling home repairs can be tough.
Hodges recalled that during one of her husband’s deployments, she crawled under the house to do her own plumbing after being overcharged for an earlier repair job.
“A lot of times when the man is gone, “ Hodges said, “people take advantage.”
There are intangibles too: instead of going solo to a Christmas party — common on a military base where one spouse may be deployed — Hodges stayed home.
The Guard life
Bradshaw, 41, was in the regular Army for five years, and knows the difference between it and the Guard.
He also knows what it’s like to come home from Guard duty to an empty house; his wife left while he was in Virginia for Guard training in 2010.
“It’s a really tight community,” in the regular Army, with military neighbors on the base and a built-in social network, Bradshaw said. “You really have camaraderie. You have that closeness.”
But many Guard members take repeated deployments because they can’t find a good job at home, Bradshaw said, leaving the family isolated, sometimes for years on end.
Bradshaw and Turner were not immune. At one point, Bradshaw called from Afghanistan to break up. That went into “Through the War.”
“National Guard’s a tough life,” Bradshaw said. “We had some relationship drama overseas.
“I had to break it off. I was so busy over there. I felt like I didn’t have time for a relationship.”
They reunited, and plan to marry in the spring. In the meantime, Bradshaw gave his fiancee some tough love.
“He was like, girl, I will not marry you if you don’t get in that studio,” she said. “It really did inspire me.”
She ended up mixing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” with “Blessed Assurance,” a time-tested hymn.
The titles of the self-penned originals evoke the personal struggles that weave through the patriotic material: “Baby it’s You and Me;” “9,000 Miles.”
In an earlier era, it might have been called a concept album. As long as people listen, Turner doesn’t care what it’s called. Nor does she care that the collection does some genre hopping.
“I love to sing everything,” except sex, said Turner, who also doesn’t rap. “When I was in college, my professor told me I was an opera singer.”
She didn’t do opera, but Turner has always sung at church.
Now, the Sarah Palin fan and political conservative is also performing at Republican Party events.
She’d like to take the show on the road, sing the national anthem at a Texas Rangers game, or perform for troops overseas.
“Before, I respected soldiers and my country. Now I’m a patriot,” Turner said. “I sing because I have a vision and passion.”