For Sgt. Ian Howes, music was a way to escape and entertain troops while stationed at Joint Base Balad in Iraq.
“It’s been a huge outlet. You know you go crazy there, just the constant bombing and shooting, everything going on. You’ve got to have some kind of outlet: put your headphones on, or you have really close buddies,” said the 27-year-old Howes, who just returned to Winchester. “This time, I got my guitar over there, so I played for everybody. We didn’t have the USO because everybody was getting out. ... We usually have stuff like that, but it was dead.
“JBB was where I was at ... the first time I went they would go to this base to go on relaxation like when they had some leave time. When I got there, it was ... maybe a little bit bigger than this downtown area. There wasn’t much left.”
The four-month tour in Iraq was Howes’ second deployment there after joining the Army about eight years ago. He said his step-father was in the Army for about six years, and he saw it as a way to get out.
Originally from Utah, he moved to Winchester four years ago after meeting the woman who is now his wife, Meredith.
Howes’ first deployment lasted almost six months, and he was in the active Army with the 82nd Airborne Division. This time, he served with the Kentucky Army National Guard as an operations non-commissioned officer. He said his job was to track people “on a big giant screen” similar to a GPS.
He said his second tour involved a lot more politics.
“It was a transition from us going out and helping the people and everything, to us pulling back and trying to transition to the Iraqi army,” he said.
Taking after his father, who plays in the B.D. Howes Band in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has been playing music for 30 years, Howes saved up and bought his first guitar at 13.
“I was banging on the drums since I was probably about 9 years old, and then I realized ‘Hmm, I can’t impress a girl beating on some drums,’” he said. “So I worked all summer and got my first guitar, didn’t put it down, was playing eight hours a day ... six months straight. Dad would come down and say ‘It’s 3 o’clock in the morning.’”
Howes has been playing and singing since, including a couple performances at Mia’s in Lexington. He hopes to focus more on his music, and will play in Park City, Utah, with his father’s band in January.
In late September, Howes performed alongside his friend, Spc. Jesse Mendoza, of Austin, Ky., during the JBB’s Got Talent Competition. He described it as similar to “America’s Got Talent,” and said three judges held up scores, and then they revoted depending on the crowd’s reaction. He and Mendoza received all 10s to best a field of 20 competitors for the win.
“It was pretty interesting. You get to sit there and play and have people critique you,” he said.
Performing, he said, helped lift morale among the soldiers, which he enjoyed. He has several songs, some of which are lighthearted like one called “Cell Phone Blues,” and others that are more therapeutic, like “Combat Goodbyes,” and “Little Something,” which is for men who are homesick and missing the women they love.
His second deployment was Howes’ last as his commitment ends in September.
“It’s been rough on my wife. The first time, we were only married for a month and then I left,” he said.
Since returning to Winchester, Howes said he has hung out and caught up with friends and family, and he has purchased some new recording equipment and a guitar.
“I buy guitars like women buys shoes,” he said, laughing.
For more information on Howes’ music and future performances, visit http://ichowes.com.
Contact Katie Perkowski at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter, @TheSunKatie.