Photo of Sergio Noriega Resounding Joy Semper Sound intern

Sergio Noriega,
2015 Semper Sound Intern

[quote]Seeing how the sound of a guitar, the beat of a drum, and the melody of my voice can put a smile on the face of someone with PTSD is the most rewarding feeling.[/quote]

Resounding Joy is proud to be the host to a second Semper Sound intern, Sergio Noriega, a Marine Corps veteran and passionate musician. This internship, funded by the Travis Manion Foundation», enabled Sergio to attend group and individual music therapy sessions at the Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), to provide peer mentorship for active-duty veterans, musical support with the Semper Sound Band, and perspective on military transitions that only a veteran has. We asked Sergio to tell his story of service, passion for music, and helping others through Resounding Joy.

“My friends and I were always playing music . . . jamming, freestyling. Our influences were that of P.O.D (Payable on Death) and Slightly Stoopid. We would play house parties and different shows around San Diego. We weren’t that big, but we didn’t care. We were all about the music, and we always had a blast. After high school, the band, sadly, came to a stop. We all remained friends, but life just took its course.”

“Growing up in El Cajon, California, I would always drive past the armed forces recruiting office. Seeing the World Trade Center buildings come crashing down after having planes flown into them had a huge impact on me.I wanted to go to the front lines and literally face the enemy head on. I always had an extreme personality growing up, and I was always a fighter, but, at the same time, I could be very compassionate. I went to my parents’ house and told them my plan. They were concerned because it was war time, but supportive. My grandfather was in the US Navy and survived after a Japanese kamikaze plane flew into his ship, cutting it in half. My uncle was in the US Army, served in Vietnam, and lost an eye during a firefight. My cousin Jared was in the Marine Corps infantry, served in Afghanistan, and saved the life of one of his guys by pulling him from a kill zone after he had been shot. All of these family members who served motivated me to join as well. I decided that I was going to join the United States Marines Corps infantry.”

“On a Saturday morning, I made my way down to the recruiting office off East Main Street in El Cajon. I walked into the office to encounter a short, well-built, scary-looking man with a scar that ran from his eyebrow to his cheek. I was unfazed. He looked me up and down and loudly asked, ‘What can I do for you?’  I told him that I wanted to become a United States Marine in the infantry. I’ll never forget his face when I said that. He replied with a smile, ‘So you want to be in the infantry, huh? I’m in the infantry! Come have a seat. Let’s talk.’ I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps infantry at age 20. I went to boot camp at MCRD San Diego, and from there, I went to School of Infantry (SOI) at Camp Pendleton. After I had graduated from SOI, I was assigned to 2nd Battalion 5th Marines (2/5) from the 5th Marine Regiment.”

“Right away, our seniors went to work, training and getting us ready for what was to come. It was very intense and, by far, the hardest times I had to endure (besides Afghanistan). Some of the greatest, smartest, strongest, and most hardcore men I have ever met in my life were serving in the USMC infantry. I learned quickly how things were run. It was absolutely a sink-or-swim event in my life.”

“My first deployment was to the Pacific with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit, doing humanitarian work along the way. While we were deployed there, my friends in the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines (3/5) were deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan. Third Battalion suffered 25 KIA (killed in action) within the first few months after they arrived and, at one point, were combat ineffective. A lot of good Marines lost their lives on that deployment. Some were my friends. Young warriors die, and it is a cold, harsh reality of war. I think about it often, and it weighs heavily on my heart.”

“After returning from the Pacific, 2/5 got word that we were going to Afghanistan. After knowing how 3/5 had suffered over there, I was a little scared. I knew that it would come with a price and that there was a high probability that I wouldn’t be coming home. But I had trained for this moment for the past three years, and it was one of the reasons I had joined the infantry. We spent eight months in Helmand Province in the Kajaki district, Musakala, Zamindawar, and other areas. We didn’t have anywhere near as many KIAs as 3/5 did, but a lot of our Marines were wounded. My good friend Carlson lost his legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device while sending in his fire team. I had a lot of close calls, and there were times I thought for sure that I was going to die. I had come to peace with the fact that I was going to die, but the Lord was protecting me and brought me home.”

“After the deployment was over and we had come home, I had about one year left on my four-year contract. I was very angry and amped-up for a while, then that turned into numb apathy. I got into a relationship that turned out to be extremely unhealthy and put me in an ever-worse place in my life mentally. After a long time of going through a vicious cycle of drinking excessively and getting into fights, I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere in life. I had finished my enlistment with the Marines and was enrolled in school but still felt like I was just another average civilian. In the Marine Corps infantry, they build you up, and you are surrounded by your brothers. You are made to be this war-fighting, bad-ass American who comes out guns blazing, only to come back to regular civilian life. I felt like a nobody. I felt as if I couldn’t relate to these kids at the college, and didn’t want to relate to them. After almost two years, I ended the relationship I was in and started to focus on myself more. I got back into martial arts, I started to work with my mom on my voice and singing, and grew stronger in my faith. I started to feel that I had a purpose, and I found my smile again!”

“One day, my younger brother told me that he had a friend in a Travis Manion Foundation» internship program, designed specifically for veterans. I was hesitant at first, but I signed up. The program provides a five-month internship in a veteran’s chosen field. I told them I was interested in music, and right away they asked me if I was interested in music therapy. I said yes, and that is when they introduced me to Resounding Joy.”

“Right away I was hooked. Everyone at Resounding Joy was so welcoming, loving, and very informative. I met music therapist Hannah Bronson my first week at the their offices in Sorrento Valley. Right away, Hannah and I clicked, and it was then that Dr. Barbara Reuer, Resounding Joy Founder and Executive Director, assigned me to work with Hannah at the NMCSD. My experience at the NMCSD was very humbling and rewarding. I participated in group therapy music jam sessions and shadowed Hannah as she provided individual music therapy sessions to hospital patients. I was able to sing and pick up the mandolin again, while, at the same time, encouraging and uplifting active-duty service members. I have made many connections with the service members, and it has been such an honor. I was also able to talk positively with the combat veterans suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic-stress disorder) and to share our unique experiences. I’ve learned that music therapy not only works, it’s extremely effective. With a guitar in your hands, that’s all you focus on—stress and its triggers are absent. I noticed that drumming is also a very therapeutic way of getting the mind off stress and anger. I will always be a part of Resounding Joy and the Travis Manion Foundation.”

“I am grateful to Nick Borelli, Albie Tross, and all the Travis Manion staff for everything they’ve done for me and the rest of the veterans. You guys are amazing, and I will always stay connected!”

“Same for Resounding Joy. My thanks goes to Barbara Reuer, Hannah Bronson, Diane Garrison, Mandi Griggs, and the rest of the staff at Resounding Joy. I love you all, and I will always be a part of the family. Resounding Joy has shown me a side of music that I will always hold near and dear to my heart. Seeing how the sound of a guitar, the beat of a drum, and the melody of my voice can put a smile on the face of someone with PTSD is the most rewarding feeling. I am still serving, and I am still giving back to my brothers and sisters. The Travis Manion Foundation and Resounding Joy have motivated me to always strive for success and to not go stagnant. I can’t thank you all enough. You will always be a part of my life.”

Over the past few months, Sergio has performed and assisted with three Concerts in the Courtyard at NMCSD, three community events with local military organizations, engaged in a Resounding Joy Junior Joy Giver training session, and connected with countless active-duty service members. His bright spirit and passion for, not only music, but also helping others, has been a great addition to the Resounding Joy family. We wish him well in his future pursuits!