SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Christian music, the military and the New Testament story of Lazarus.
For many, a common theme would be difficult to see.
For Drew Reese, they represent experiences that have molded his character and shaped the course of his life. He serves in the military, he was once Lazarus and music saved him from languishing in a dark, foul tomb. The Orange County, Calif., native now lives to share his talents with the hope of awakening others and lifting their spirits heavenward.
Except for a very dark period, music has been a life-long passion for Reese. He started learning to play the piano at age 3. A teacher turned him onto contemporary Christian music in sixth grade and by age 18, he had recorded his first demo. He debuted his first album — "Next Door to Eden" — in 2000.
Reese chose a different path however when he heard about two planes crashing into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. "It changed my life," he said. The young musician felt compelled to join the military. Eventually he enlisted in the Air Guard and was deployed to the Middle East in 2005.
Life took another turn. When Reese returned home nine months later, he was not the same person. He politely declined to share details, but said he'd had some very traumatic experiences. As a result of witnessing horrific scenes, he began to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Without the support of family, friends and the Utah National Guard, who recognized the red flags, he could have been a ticking time bomb.
"I had nightmares, felt anger and hostility, I was withdrawn," he said. "I had always been the kind of loving, caring person who would help a stranger. All that caring stopped and I became closed up in a hard shell."
For almost a year he remained in his murky state of mind. His shell finally cracked when a friend shared a Christian music CD taken from a Passion Conference, a nondenominational gathering of young adults similar to the LDS Church's Especially For Youth.
One song on the CD — "Better is One Day" by Matt Redmen —; helped Reese to begin healing.
"God was able to break through. I had been in such a place of hurt and pain. For the first time in a long time, I felt the burning presence of God. I got on my knees and asked him to help me out of my emotional black hole," Reese said.
Coping with PTSD is a daily battle for Reese. Holding a job has been difficult. He has been engaged twice and relationships are a struggle. He suffers from some memory loss. The soldier has been placed in an 80 percent disabled status by the VA Hospital.
"My road to recovery has been a difficult one. I have a persistent condition that will never be cured and will eventually become terminal," he says. "But I have turned that challenge from a weakness to a strength by helping others learn to cope with the challenges the face. This strength comes from Jesus Christ. I have felt his healing touch upon my life and the call to go out and do his work is my driving motivation."
Currently Reese is a member of the 23rd Army Band based out of West Jordan, where he puts his whole soul in to sings and plays the keyboard. When the band performs, the charismatic Reese serves as the emcee.
"He is a tremendously talented individual," said Chief Warrant Officer Denny Saunders, Reese's commanding officer. "We love having him. He has a lot to offer."
Jen Marco Handy, a music producer and recording artist and friend of Reese, noted his progress in dealing with PTSD.
"I have seen a major recovery take place in him. He was numb for a while. Time and music have really helped," Handy said.
Reese has begun the process of launching a nondenominational ministry organization called "Warrior Worship" as a tool to share contemporary Christian and worship music and help others, not necessarily those dealing with PTSD, but who may be battling addictions or other vices.
Reese also volunteers time as a worship leader on Thursday at K2 The Church, located at 193 West 2100 South. Those who come, usually adults ranging from 20 to 30 years old, study the bible and worship by singing praises to God.
A story Reese often shares is about Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha who was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ, as told in John 11 of the New Testament. The body of Lazarus already had a decomposing stench in the tomb when the Savior called him to come forth.
"It's a powerful story. At one point, we are all dead like Lazarus and need to be awakened. Like Lazarus stinking in a dark tomb, we may be hiding from God with an offensive odor in our lives. Only Jesus has the power to call and awaken us. That was me, I was hiding from God in stinky clothes because I couldn't deal with it," said the talented musician.
"There is a desperate need of a wake up call from God. I can say I have been put through the ringer so I could die and be awakened. My story is still unfolding."
More than 30 percent of soldiers are returning from military service and dealing with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to Jill Atwood, spokeswoman for the VA hospital. Symptoms range from flashbacks, feelings of distress, violence and substance abuse to a normal readjustment from being in a warzone to being at home with family.
"It's a big adjustment. Some go from a high profile position and stress to an old job or there is a loss of camaraderie. People don't understand what they have been through," Atwood said. "They are taught to be tough, take bullets and complete the mission. It's hard for them to admit they need help."
The VA hospital (500 Foothill Dr., Salt Lake City, Utah) offers a variety of benefits and services for veterans, including individual and family counseling. Veterans are entitled to five years of free health care and are encouraged to visit www.saltlakecity.va.gov or call the enrollment and eligibility office at 801-584-2585. For more on PTSD, visit www.militaryonesource.com.
Related websites: www.drewreese.com