Living Memorial for Darby Ledbetter

DarbyLargeSubmitter’s Name: Darby Ledbetter
The Service Member’s Name: Darby Ledbetter
Branch of Service: Army Reserves
Rank: CW3
Military Job: Automotive Maintenance Warrant Officer
Unit: 322nd Support Maintenance Company
Hometown for Service Member: Midland, Texas
Hometown for Submitter: Midland, Texas

This story is unique, however, it is a story I hope you will enjoy. I have had the privilege to serve in the military for the past 24 years. I have been blessed in my life. I have a wonderful wife and two great kids that have served right alongside me, every step of the way. We are a military family. We have experienced so much during the past 24 years. So much, I could probably write a book. However, one of the best experiences in my career has been the privilege to pursue another passion of mine parallel to my military career.

You see, in addition to my passion for serving my country, I also have a passion for music. From an early age, I have always loved music. I love playing guitar, writing songs and performing on stage. I even moved to Nashville, TN in 1999 to pursue music professionally. A move prompted by a demo tape my wonderful wife sent to a music producer in Nashville who later offered me a record deal. Now, superstardom did not find me as quickly as I had hoped. In fact, the week we moved to Nashville, the record label had been bought out by another. So, finding ourselves on the mercy of the economy and eight years of service under my belt, I did what any Soldier would do, I joined the Army National Guard. This is where my journey to superstardom began.

Now, I truly enjoy what I do in the military. I enjoy serving alongside all the incredible men and women who are the defenders of freedom. While on a deployment in Iraq in 2005, I had put a bandDabry2 together made up of Soldiers to entertain troops, during which, I found a new vigor for music and a newfound desire to write songs about the brave men and women who serve. So, I wrote. About this same time, I heard a new song titled Citizen Soldier; performed by the band, Three Doors Down; Come to find out, the Army National Guard had sponsored this incredible work as a national recruiting and retention campaign. I remember thinking to myself; I would love the opportunity to do that.

When I returned home from deployment in late 2005, I was determined to find out how I could get the opportunity to do what Three Doors Down did. I took a pocket full of songs to Joint Force Headquarters in Nashville, TN and I sat down with the Adjutant General and asked him to listen. He was excited and liked the music, however, didn’t know how to help. He could have turned me away, but instead, he put me in touch with the person who would later give me, and those I serve with, a voice.

An opportunity came when I was asked to perform at a National Guard sponsored event in Memphis, TN. I graciously said yes. The National Guard also said they were going to come and film the event. I remember feeling as if this was an audition of sorts and maybe it was, but little did I know what this event would mean to me and my music in the future. I put the best band of musicians together I could find; we practiced and hit the road for Memphis. It was an awesome show. I believe I was the only band who didn’t get rained out. The Soldiers and Citizens that worked at the Soldier Readiness Support Center (SRSC) were an incredible group of photographers and videographers who put the promo video together from the Memphis event. This crew was also responsible for about 80% of the promotional products used by the Army National Guard.

Long story short, it was a great event and once National Guard Bureau in DC saw the video and heard the music, we got an opportunity to do a music video that would be used as an internal promotion for the National Guard. I had written a song titled, "Come the Weekend" that would be the soundtrack to the video. My wife even co-stared in the video. We even shared our first on-screen kiss. The video was a success and afterward the National Guard had asked me if I would be interested in writing another song for another video – except this time, the video was going to be a national advertising campaign for the National Guard. I was elated at the opportunity I could hardly contain my excitement. The next morning, I sat on my front porch with my guitar and began to pick out a tune. I began to think about the soldiers and families that serve and all the sacrifices they make, and in about 10 minutes I had the beginnings of the song “I Wont Let My Guard Down.” 

Dabry1I pitched the song to the National Guard to see how they would like it. I was humbled to find that they had loved it. In early 2008, I went in the studio and recorded it. Then the crew at the Soldier Readiness Support Center went to work, and conceptualized and produced the video. All across the country, the video was played as an advertisement in movie theaters before a movie began. The song and video became a success. I remember my wife and I going to a movie and seeing the video for the first time. I recall what a humbling feeling it was for my wife and I. Also, what an honor it was to be able to tell a small story about the brave individuals that serve in this country.

For the next year, my wife and I toured the country on weekends and performed for many events in conjunction with the National Guard. It was such a great experience to have had the opportunity to represent the National Guard and the Soldiers. We met so many great people and Soldiers at every event and heard many stories from those who have served. It is an experience we will always cherish and we made memories we will never forget. I still receive emails and messages today from young people who were inspired by the song and decided to join the military. It makes my heart smile and makes me proud to have been a part of such a great campaign. Most of all, I am thankful to have had the support of my Guard family help give life to the music and give one of their own a shot at his dream.

Along with this story, there are pictures and links to several versions of the “I Won’t Let My Guard Down” videos. In one version, we won a prestigious award but I was deploying again, so Cathy, my wife, accepted the award on my behalf. I have enjoyed creating this music. I hope you enjoy it as well. My family and I can still feel the embrace of all of the Soldiers, Veterans and families we had the pleasure to meet during this incredible journey. Thank you. I am sure and I hope the music tells the story better than I have. Blessings.