Story by Mitch Shaw • Video and photo by Benjamin Zack • Standard-Examiner staff
OGDEN — Music has quite literally been Andrew Wiscombe’s saving grace.
Wiscombe, who grew up in Spanish Fork, joined the service in 2005 and ended up being recommended for sniper school. He ultimately deployed to Iraq in 2008 as a sniper.
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His time in Iraq had a profound impact on him. He doesn’t like to talk about the details, but he saw more than his fair share of horror.
“Kids getting killed,” he said. “Kids lying dead in the streets. That was what got me the most, anything involving kids. That was tough.”
His first son was born in 2008, about a month after he deployed to Iraq, and Wiscombe didn’t meet him until six months later while on temporary leave. He said the violence toward children he saw in Iraq was compounded by not being able to see his own son.
“I did have those thoughts — ‘Will I ever get to see my son?’” he said. “That’s a thought that would cross my mind a lot. I kind of was always thinking, you know, is today going to be the day?”
It was thoughts like this that led Wiscombe to leave the Army in 2010.
“That decision was totally driven by family,” he said. “If I had been a single guy with no family, I might have considered staying. But where I was, with my wife and a young son, I had to get out.”
He felt some relief knowing he’d no longer be separated from his family for long periods of time, but he found himself haunted by what he saw in Iraq. He experienced severe anxiety and depression, with scenes of war playing over and over in his mind.
Wiscombe is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and said turning to drugs or alcohol to cope was never really an option. Instead, he used work and school.
“I basically tried to stay as busy as possible, fill up every hour so I wouldn’t have time to think about my experience,” he said. “But eventually, everything kind of caught up with me, and I just broke down.”
“I’d be driving down the road and see a pile of trash and just have a complete break down,” he said. “They always hid bombs under piles of trash in Iraq. That kind of thing got more and more frequent, and I was basically unable to function. I was being triggered by everything. Sounds, smells, they could send me right back (to Iraq).”
Wiscombe was eventually diagnosed with PTSD by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He said none of the treatment options he was given seemed to work, but one day he picked up his guitar and started writing songs.
“It was like an all of the sudden kind of thing,” he said. “I started writing and boom, I started to feel a little better.”
Wiscombe dove fully into music.
“I started writing really crappy songs and recording them on my iPad,” he said. “I’d just give them to people I knew. Eventually though, I started writing stuff that I felt was pretty solid.”
When he unveiled the songs to his wife, Kate Wiscombe, she encouraged him to pursue music as a career.
“He had produced this amazing collection of songs, and they came basically out of nowhere,” Kate Wiscombe said. “Before he started playing me these songs, he’d only sung to me maybe five or 10 times in about eight years of marriage.”
“He started playing this stuff and I was just like, ‘Who are you?'” she said. “He had been through so much at that point and was needing a job, and I said, ‘Why don’t you just be a musician?’ I felt that was the best and most effective use of his energy.”
Wiscombe began playing small gigs and at competitions around the state, sharpening his songwriting and performance skills. He met Ogden-based folk music prodigy Sammy Brue at a competition in Utah County. Wiscombe said he, Brue and Brue’s father, Mike Thornbrue, immediately hit it off.
Thornbrue described Wiscombe as genuine soul “with a great story to tell.”
“I really liked what Sam was doing, and he and Mike liked what I was doing,” Wiscombe said. “So we kind started looking for ways to work together.”
That vision was manifested earlier this year when Wiscombe self-released his album, “Indiana,” which was co-produced by Brue. The album features six of Wiscombe’s original compositions, narrative-style songs that Wiscombe says describe his world view.
“My songs are probably a little bit politically charged,” he said. “I don’t really sit right or left, but I tend to write about what I think is true. I’ll write about war and soldiers and that kind of thing, but you probably won’t ever hear an Alan Jackson, ‘American Soldier’ type song from me.”
Wiscombe has garnered enough of a following that he now does music full time. He toured the Midwest and some eastern states earlier this year. He even had a few shows in the United Kingdom. He’ll play the Wasatch Mountain Music Festival in Midway on July 14 and 15.
“This is what keeps me going,” he said. “When I’m playing music, I don’t have any triggers. It’s been the ultimate therapy for me.”
You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 801-625-4233. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer.