Written by Phil Cerroni
Singer/Songwriter tells Irving High School students to discover, share their talents
By Sissy Courtney
When singer, songwriter Phil Vandel was a teenager, he “had long hair, wanted to play guitar and pick up chicks,” he told students at Irving High School Oct. 25. But he said something happened to change him, and he told his story to students to encourage them to find their talents and to develop them to make the world a better place.
He appeared on stage with Chief Warrant Officer Gary Linfoot, who was paralyzed in a helicopter crash during a combat mission in Iraq. Vandel has used his time and talents to support and raise money for wounded soldiers and their families.
“I didn’t start out as somebody who was really patriotic,” Vandel said. “I didn’t start out as this person who had this drive to give back and raise money for wounded warriors.”
Something happened to change all that.
“Everybody has something in their life that changes them,” Vandel said. “There is a moment for everybody here – that will happen. Maybe it’s already happened. Maybe it was a car wreck where you lost somebody you loved, or maybe you just had this epiphany one day. This was one of those moments for me.
“I got booked at a gig. I thought I was going to go in, cut a fat hog, make 100 bucks, get out of there and go get a chili dog.”
But it did not happen like that.
“I walked into a room, and they started wheeling in guys in wheelchairs (who were) missing legs, missing arms, burned – 80 percent of their bodies covered in burns, and it affected me,” Vandel said. “It affected me in a way that nothing had ever affected me in my life. It made me realize I wanted to do more to help these people.
“I spent a lot of time talking to these men and women that had served and learned their stories and how they were injured and where they were blown up or shot or whatever had happened to them.
“From that moment on, I had a purpose. My purpose was no longer picking up chicks, no longer buying chili dogs. It was to try to help the men and women that give me the right to do what I do which is to play guitar, and in a lot of countries, I’d probably get shot for coming in here with this guitar, as retarded as that sounds. It’s the reality of the world we live in.”
The Phil Vandel Band traveled to Iraq three times between 2009 and 2010 to entertain troops. Before going, the U.S. government required they sign documents giving up all their benefits, insurance, and rights to sue if they were injured or killed.
“When you go there, there is such a sense of purpose,” Vandel said. “If you’re not there for the right reason, there is no reason to be there because Iraq is a very dirty, hot place. But it was exciting, because I got to see what our troops were doing first hand, and I got to tour a lot of hospitals where we saw a lot of guys who were freshly injured, who were just starting the recovery process.
“We asked to go everywhere nobody else would go, and they sent us there. We did 19 shows in 9 days. We got to see a lot of that country. I’ve thrown rock into Iran from where I stood in Iraq, and I’ve thrown rocks into Syria from where I stood in Iraq. So I’ve been north, south, east and west and I can tell you that you experience a lot of things.
“One thing I do is I ask a lot of questions; I learn about (the soldiers) – what makes them tick because there may be something about them that inspires you to do something great,” Vandel said. “I asked a soldier what kind of things he and the other guys go through every day – what emotions go through their head. What kind of stuff do you carry on you? What’s in your pockets? What does a soldier do?”
Vandel said it inspired him to write his song called What Soldiers Do, and he sang it for the students.
“So, I challenge each of you who have the ability to go on to become mechanical engineers or electrical engineers to be able to develop things, God bless you, and I hope you do it,” Vandel said. “Go and push the envelope and come up with things that make (us) say, ‘Wow! How did they do that?’
“For those of you who are more like me, I challenge you to figure out what your talent is. It could be something as simple as, ‘I just like to talk a lot.’ But there is a talent in that because you can get up and motivate somebody else that has a different talent to use that talent.
“No matter what your talent is, figure it out,” Vandel said. “It’s not hard to do, and it might not be something that’s grand and dramatic as what you wish you could have been or maybe you thought it was going to be, but everybody has one. So if it’s music, write your song, whatever that song is. Use it for the betterment of not only the military but of fellow students.
“Everybody has somebody at school that gets picked on or maybe isn’t as strong or as pretty or whatever the situation may be, you’ve got a talent that could help that person,” Vandel said. “At church you can do that; in your community, you can do that. And on a big scale dealing with the military and dealing with wounded warriors, men and women who have come back with so much on the line, you can do your part to help them as well.
“(Good) things happen because of people who become passionate because of something in their life changing them,” Vandel said. “I hope it happens for you sooner than later. Regardless when it happens, raise it, and run with it, and give it 100 per cent.”
The Phil Vandel Band performed at Sky Ball X, the Airpower Foundation’s fundraiser, presented by American Airlines, Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport and Bell Helicopter Oct. 27. Proceeds from the annual event enable the Airpower Foundation to provide increased support for military families in North Texas and across the United States.