Donated Guitars Lift Spirits Of U.S. Troops

Army Sgt. Bob Persch had always wanted to learn how to play guitar. When he was was deployed to Afghanistan, he couldn't find a guitar to play. His desire to play and help others, led Robin Webber at Guitar Gallery in White House, Tenn., to begin donating a guitar a week to U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next, we have a story of what an American soldier did to fill time. Between bursts of action, American troops abroad face long stretches of waiting. And when Army Sergeant Bob Persch was shipping out to Eastern Afghanistan a couple of years ago, he discussed an idea with his commander.

Sergeant BOB PERSCH (U.S. Army): I've wanted to learn how to play the guitar for the majority of my life that I can remember, and we had talked about getting a couple of guitars once we got in theater, buy them off of soldiers that were leaving, going back home. And he would play, and I would learn.

INSKEEP: That was the idea, but they couldn't find any guitars. So Sergeant Persch had another idea.

Sgt. PERSCH: I had a copy of the Acoustic Guitar magazine that I had picked up at a PX somewhere between, you know, Alabama and Afghanistan. I did like a general-form email, and I sent to everybody in that magazine that had anything to do with guitars. I sent probably about 120 emails out that night.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of those emails went to Robin Weber at Guitar Gallery in White House, Tennessee.

Ms. ROBIN WEBER (Proprietor, Guitar Gallery): You know, I sell guitars for a living. Music is my passion, and I know how important it is for me to play the guitar every day. I can't imagine being deployed overseas and not having your guitar.

MONTAGNE: Robin and Guitar Gallery started donating guitars - first one, then eight. She shipped them to Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Each instrument, plus shipping, cost her several hundred dollars. Sergeant Persch took delivery at a forward operating base - or FOB, as the troops called them - and then he started making deliveries.

Sgt. PERSCH: I'm an engineer with the Army, so a lot of what I did while I was in theater was fly to different FOBs that had either been attacked or needed to be expanded. And we went to a FOB that had some damage to it, and we had just received another guitar. I did not have a recipient, and so I just packed it up and I took it with me. And I got off that helicopter with that guitar in my hand, and one of the young troops that was there said: Are you going to play the guitar while you're here? And I said well, I will, I said, but my intent was to give it to somebody. There were five or six guys in the group that played, and the look on their faces...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sgt. PERSCH: ...was pretty amazing.

MONTAGNE: The arrangement between Bob Persch and Robin Weber became so popular, they started a website that takes donations, both money and instruments. It's guitarsfortroops.com.

INSKEEP: Guitarsfortroops.com. They now send about one guitar each week to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Sergeant Persch has since returned from his deployment. And we'll leave you with a sound of a video he shot while inside Afghanistan. It's a soldier playing one of the donated guitars.

(Soundbite of song, "Nothing Else Matters")

INSKEEP: Play them if you got them.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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