Nick Rucker plays guitar at the end of his talk to illustrate his experiences. Photo courtesy of Grace O’Neal.
By Grace O’Neal
The Concordia University College Republicans hosted songwriter Nick Rucker to speak at Thom Auditorium on his experiences as a soldier in the military and his passion for writing meaningful country music.
Rucker, based out of Omaha, has had a passion for music ever since picking up a guitar at the age of 13. His rock-inspired, “gritty” musical style was influenced by Matchbox Twenty. Rucker performed one of their songs from the album “Yourself, or Someone Like you” that he had a nostalgic attitude towards, it being the first CD he had purchased.
Rucker said he has been in military service for nearly 12 years. He is currently working as a concrete repair worksman for Supportworks. He additionally trains purchasers of Supportworks’ products, going all over the nation and world to provide training to teams through Supportworks.
Rucker had interest in being in the military to follow in the footsteps of his father who was serving during Operation Desert Storm. He relayed to the audience how he completed basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, then moved to school at Aberdeen Maryland for six months. After schooling, he was stationed in Fort Riley for a month in Kansas, then quickly was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, during the time of Saddam Hussain. He was later stationed in Afghanistan in 2012. Afghanistan, he said, was “like being on Mars” in its landscape and general feeling.
Rucker, after returning to the United States, said he had some issues after deployment.
“It wasn’t so much that we had experienced any kind of, like, there was nobody dying around me every single day, not what you’d think about,” Rucker said. “But I believed, to me, and what I guess come to believe is just the stress of 12 months straight of not having a break, working seven days a week doing the same thing in and out and the fear of getting bombed and it not ever happening. I think it was enough stress on all of us”.
Rucker touched on the fact that there had not been any deaths in his unit while being deployed, however, there were 19 suicides. He discussed how to address other military personnel and their homecomings.
“I think one of the best things that you can do is really just talk to them about it,” Rucker said. “Ask them about it … because I felt like whenever I came back my family was just so much still caught up in what was going on here. Life never stopped and I came back and I’m like, ‘how am I going to fit back into the picture?’ If you know somebody, don’t be afraid to ask, it’s important, and it’s important for them.”
When Rucker had returned after getting out of active duty in 2015, he took up a substantial drinking habit, “around 18 beers a night.” Rucker stated that he was gaining weight and didn’t feel great about himself, and after a scary binge, decided it would be time to go to rehab and get sober, with the help of his family and Veteran’s Affairs.
At VA, Rucker became involved in “Guitars for Veterans,” an organization that takes donations to purchase guitars that go to veterans who have PTSD. They are given music therapy lessons and after a month, perform a song they learned.
“It’s very cool to watch and see these guys who are not only most recent war veterans but Vietnam and Desert Storm guys that come out of the woodwork and do this program,” Rucker said.
Rucker was writing music even while abroad. At Fort Riley, he played one of his songs for a member of his unit who enthusiastically said he played better than singer Kenny Chesney. His country singing career has given him the opportunity to share his vulnerable music touring the Midwest and reaching country music lovers all over. He was recently on the latest podcast “The Pursuit of Creativity” and he was nominated for the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. Rucker’s newest extended play, “After Everything,” came out this April and he is working on writing a book that is his own reflections upon his life experiences.
Junior Kyndle Kirby, a newer member of College Republicans, stated that College Republicans are very active in serving at the VFW and in veteran’s affairs. She appreciated Rucker coming to Concordia.
“I really enjoyed it because it was his story and his music, and he shared the stories of his early life and his deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq and how music therapy helped him overcome PTSD, and the alcoholism that came from his struggles with PTSD,” Kirby said.
Kirby stated that his presentation gave her insight into how to better help open up discussion with her family members who are veterans.
“Allowing someone to share an experience with you helps to understand them better,” Kirby said. “Not only do you get a chance to appreciate music, but you also get a chance to learn from someone that you may not normally have the chance to learn from and also encourages a spirit of patriotism.”