Meredith Melcher ’02 was your typical Army brat — she had been to three different high schools in three different states before she graduated. Her father was a retired three-star general, and his 32 years of service affected Melcher’s childhood and development in more ways than just her current residence. When it came time to apply to colleges, Melcher knew she wanted to be involved in the military somehow. She applied to the United States Military Academy at West Point and the College of William and Mary, including the U.S. Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship at William and Mary. She got in with a full ride and began ROTC as soon as she got to school.
“I knew based on my dad’s career that the Army was something that would be a good job after graduation,” says Melcher. “The Army would give me a lot of good skills.”
At the College, Melcher majored in English. She also sang and held leadership roles in the Accidentals a cappella group, joined a co-educational military fraternity (Pershing Rifles), and became a sister in the Alpha Pi chapter of the Kappa Delta sorority. With all this in addition to the ROTC training, Melcher remarked that she was “quite busy,” which most would say is a pretty safe understatement.
About a month after graduation, Melcher continued on her army path at an Officer Basic Course in San Antonio. She was trained in Army Healthcare for the Medical Service Corps, a path she had decided to pursue in her senior year of ROTC.
“If I ever did get out of the military, healthcare would be a great industry to go into,” says Melcher.
Following the Officer Basic Course, Melcher moved to her first office duty station in Fort Bridge, Texas. Only four months later, she was deployed to Kuwait as part of the first Operation Iraqi Freedom. Melcher had not been in the Army long, and was still learning a lot.
“I guess I was a little bit hesitant as to what I would see over there,” reflects Melcher on her feelings as she was heading to Kuwait. “I was somewhat looking forward to using the skills I had learned in an actual wartime scenario.”
Melcher’s unit was responsible for setting up medical treatment camps and centers in support of and preparation for the initial wave of the war. She connected her responsibilities in the Middle East to her time at the College.
“I think that the academic side of being at William and Mary and getting my English degree helped me to communicate much better,” says Melcher. “I had the skills to get along with pretty much anybody.” She noted that the diverse student population at William and Mary also helped her prepare for the Army, as there were people from many different walks of life.
After a total of six months in Kuwait and Iraq, Melcher came back home. In 2004, Melcher auditioned for the U.S. Army Soldier Show, a traveling musical production with a full army cast. She performed on the road for nine months with the show.
“It was really cool,” says Melcher. “I got to sing and dance, and still be a solider at the same time. It was good to break away from the more routine jobs and do something fun.”
Her favorite part of her time with the show was performing — she had struggled with stage fright in college.
“The Soldier Show made me a much stronger performer and entertainer,” says Melcher.
She left the Army in 2006, and pursued some civilian jobs. First Melcher worked in human resources for a nonprofit in D.C. and then for Ernst & Young in Atlanta. Eventually she decided to go to graduate school and become a teacher, so she enrolled at George Mason University. Only one semester in, however, she got a phone call from the casting manager who had cast her in the Army Soldier Show. He told her about a unique performance opportunity: 4Troops. The project was being run by Sony Records, and it would unite four U.S. veterans to create a mainstream vocal group to promote awareness for veterans and raise money. Melcher thought that it was “neat, and had never really been done before,” and after learning more about it, she decided to defer school and audition.
She auditioned for Sony Records executives in December 2009, and was signed. Sgt. Daniel Jens, Staff Sgt. Ron Henry, and Former Sgt. David Clemo formed the other three members of the group, and 4Troops started recording in 2010. Their first album, “4Troops,” was released in May. In addition to a national tour, they also appeared on television and at sporting events. Luckily Melcher explained that the four group members got along very well — she already knew one of them from the Army Soldier Show, and said that “the rest just clicked immediately.” The singers also complement each other well musically, and “create one sound.” As the only female in the group, Melcher sings pretty much any female vocal part from alto to soprano.
After their first year of recording, touring, and promoting, 4Troops is waiting to hear from Sony about what the future holds. In the meantime, Melcher is working part time at a flexible job that allows her to travel for 4Troops events and shows.
“The hardest part is waiting to hear about our upcoming plans,” says Melcher. “That can be sort of nervewracking, but I am excited for the future of the group.”
Melcher encourages students to do what they enjoy, even if they’re not sure they’ll use it after college. If she hadn’t joined the Accidentals, perhaps she wouldn’t have auditioned for the U.S. Army Solider Show, and wouldn’t have gotten the offer for 4Troops. And if that’s not testament enough to the worth of her advice, Melcher sums up her time at the college and its effects on her career:
“I have learned to do what makes you happy, what you’re passionate about,” says Melcher. “If I could do it all over again, I totally would in a heartbeat.”
This article first appeared as a "Tribe Spotlight" feature by the W&M Alumni Association.