News

Interview with a Veteran

Stephen Cochran, a country-music star and Marine Corps veteran, chats with TFK

November 11, 2011
DRIVE MUSIC NASHVILLE

Country-music singer and songwriter Stephen Cochran is a Marine Corps veteran.

The nation celebrates Veteran’s Day on November 11 to honor all who have served in the military for our country. There are 36 million veterans living in the U.S. Country-music star Stephen Cochran is one of them. He decided to enlist in the Marine Corps after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In March 2003, Cochran deployed to Iraq. Later, while serving in Afghanistan, he was severely injured. Doctors said he might never walk again. But he didn't give up. After surgery and physical therapy, he made a full recovery.

Now back in music with his band, Stephen Cochran Project, Cochran performs for U.S. troops and is a passionate advocate for veterans. He also lends his voice to the Buy Veteran  campaign, which helps people find vet-owned businesses. Read on to learn about his experience in the military and how he uses music to help other vets.

Cochran is a spokesperson for Buy Veteran, a campaign to help U.S. citizens find vet-owned businesses.
COURTESY BUY VETERAN
Cochran is a spokesperson for Buy Veteran, a campaign to help U.S. citizens find vet-owned businesses.

TFK:

What influenced your decision to enlist in the military?

STEPHEN COCHRAN:

I never really had the ambition to go into the military. It was always driven into me that this is the only country where you can take a dream—which is what music is for me—and make it your career. I had just gotten into doing that when September 11 happened. I had been given this great opportunity by this country to take what I love and make a living out of it. So it was really up to me, I felt, to stand up and go fight for the freedoms I had been given. It was a no-brainer. I was an able-bodied American, in college and playing sports. I enlisted in the Marine Corps, and I would do it all over again if I had the opportunity.

TFK:

Why did you choose the Marine Corps?

COCHRAN:

When I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember I was playing in a mud puddle at my grandparent’s house up in Michigan, and my older cousin had just graduated from boot camp in the Marine Corps. He was the only Marine I had ever really seen in person. I remember just playing in this mud puddle and watching these shiny, black Corfam shoes step up in front of me, and my eyes just followed the shoes all the way up this uniform. I thought, “That’s the closest I’m ever really going to get to a superhero.” I knew that if I ever had to go to combat, I wanted to go with what I had envisioned as being the best, or the superheroes. To me that was always the Marine Corps.

TFK:

What are some of the most important things you learned from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan?

COCHRAN:

The Marine Corps teaches you determination, drive and dedication, and a lot of that I use in the music business. It’s a very hard business, and it’s very cut throat. If I wasn’t determined and dedicated, I don’t think I would have made it this far. One of the things from Iraq and Afghanistan is, obviously, I got injured to the point where I was paralyzed from the waist down. I had a doctor, who spent his whole life studying medicine, stand in front of me and tell me I was never going to walk again. Well, I walk very well now, and I do a pretty energetic show, so that makes me know that I can do anything that I want to do in life, and there’s really no one who can tell you that you can’t. If you put your mind to it, you are going to achieve your goals.

TFK:

How did coming back into music and songwriting help with your recovery?

COCHRAN:

I just came from a summit, in Washington, D.C., about using art—not just music, but physical art—to cut the healing rate from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) in half. I really thought at the time when I went to the summit that I was the only one using music to really get past some of these problems. But I found out there’s a whole bunch of us out there. I think that really showed for the future how music and the arts are going to play a bigger role in helping us heal from some of the wounds that you can’t see, such as PTS and combat fatigue. I just wrote a song called “These Pieces” (listen to “These Pieces” in the video below), and I think that it speaks to anyone who is dealing with getting the pieces of your puzzle in your life together. That’s kind of what I used music for, and I think we’ll see a lot more of that use in medicine in the future.

TFK:

What role did you see music, especially country music, play in the lives of many active service members?

COCHRAN:

Country music has been and always will be one of the greatest supporters of our American military. I’ve gotten to be good friends of a lot of the acts that I saw come to Iraq and play while I was there, such as Aaron Tippin and Toby Keith. I actually joke with Aaron Tippin that “we went to war together, because you spent as much time over there playing for the troops as I did fighting.” So these men and women who support our military in country music and all genres of music are really selfless people. Music gives our troops a little piece of being home. It’s the least that we can do as artists.

TFK:

What’s next for you in music?

COCHRAN:

I spent this past year being the spokesperson for Veteran Affairs Office Research and Development for hospitalized veterans, trying to make their lives returning home a lot easier. But through doing that and helping to make a lot of the veterans’ dreams come true, I realized I had neglected my own dream, which is music. So I got the band together for the Leatherneck Tour, playing all the Marine Corps bases. We teamed up with a great organization called American Military University. They offer online education to our veterans, so you can basically get out of the military with a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree. So when they come out, they are better prepared to enter our civilian population. I’m also going back in the studio this month to record our new album for 2012.

TFK:

You are also involved with Buy Veteran. Can you talk a little about that?

COCHRAN:

American Military University is also Buy Veteran—it was started by a Marine, and that’s what Buy Veteran is about. It is trying to link all of the veteran organizations to one another. You can go online to buyveteran.com, type in your zip code and pull up any veteran-owned business in your area. You can buy anything you need from a veteran. If you are trying support your country, your local economy and your national economy, you want to keep your money inside your country, so we can get out of this recession. By supporting these American, veteran-owned companies, I think we can do that. It’s small business at its best.

TFK:

What qualities make veterans good business owners?

COCHRAN:

I think it goes back to the core values called honor, courage and commitment—the first thing they teach you when you join the military and the Marine Corps—and I think that’s what makes a good business owner. If people know that they can rely on you, they are going to be people who are proud to do business with you because you already serve their communities as a veteran. It’s giving you the opportunity to support them after they’ve supported you.

TFK:

What do you think is the most important things kids should think about on Veteran’s Day?

COCHRAN:

One thing I thought was really cool is that a teacher down in Georgia had asked her students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and there were some students that said they didn’t want to stand. So the next day, when the students showed up to school, the teacher had all the desks removed. Before the pledge, the teacher had one of the local Army Reserve units walk in. Each soldier was carrying a desk. The teacher told her class, “You have the right to sit down because one of these soldiers is ready to give their life for the desk that you have.” What I want our youth to realize is that the flag that we pledge to is a lot more than a flag. Each one of those red lines represents the blood lost for this country and that gives them the opportunity to get an education, to serve or to not serve, to vote or to not vote, and that is something in this country we take for granted. We have this day to remember that [the men and women who serve] are the ones who give their lives so we get to keep those rights.

TFK:

Do you have anything special planned for this year’s Veteran’s Day?

COCHRAN:

On November 10, I am hosting the Marine Corps birthday here in Nashville. In 1775, the Marine Corps was born. Then on Veteran’s Day, I’m the Grand Marshall of the Nashville Veteran’s Day Parade. We are going to close out the night with a concert to all our veterans, just kind of do it the way Veteran’s do. We work really hard, we fight harder, we have fun, and we let loose when we can.

 


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