Much of Ron Henry’s life has been about service.
From serving his country in the U.S. Army for 20 years, to performing in an a cappella quartet aimed at inspiring healing for veterans through music, Henry has found joy in helping others.
Since Henry retired in Williamsburg after several years at Fort Eustis, his life has changed drastically.
Henry and three other active duty and retired military members — together comprising a cappella group Voices of Service — are in the running to win this year’s America’s Got Talent.
“This is going beyond the military,” Henry said. “The most important thing for me is to get that message out out that music is a universal language and it is the gateway to help people cope with what they’re dealing with.”
The quartet, including Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hanna, Master Sgt. Caleb Green and Sgt. Maj. Christal Rheams, is entering the show’s semifinals next week. Henry said the group will be in Los Angeles Monday. The semifinals will span four episodes starting Sept. 3.
The group secured support from the judges and show producers through auditions, preliminary performances and the quarterfinals, where the group performed songs such as Rise by Katy Perry, See You Again by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth and Fire by Gavin DeGraw.
“This thing has grown like a mustard plant,” Henry said. “It’s blossomed all over … and grown faster than you could even imagine.”
Collectively, the group has more than 100 years of military service.
Born and raised in Baxley, Georgia, Henry joined the military and became an infantryman, part of the combat force of the Army. He didn’t see combat while an infantryman, then switched his job to become a logistical transportation manager around 2000 or 2001 to take better care of his body.
It was after Henry switched his job to a less combat-related position that he saw war: He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Henry came to Williamsburg with his wife in 2004 after being stationed at Fort Eustis. When he retired in 2008, Henry and his wife decided to stay in Williamsburg.
The couple has lived in their Scott’s Pond home since they bought it in 2006.
“We sought out to live in Williamsburg because it’s a beautiful city and has a lot of … history,” Henry said. “We decided to stay and just make a career and another life.”
Throughout his military career, Henry consistently exercised his voice and musical talent, from chain of command ceremonies to other events.
“I was always in a position to use my gift as a vocalist and pianist,” he said.
That passion carried over into his retirement. Henry spent some time working as a government contractor and civil service employee, then found an opportunity to start signing with another musical group, called 4TROOPS.
That group was comprised of combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and signed to the SONY label, according to the Center for American Military Music Opportunities, the nonprofit that manages Voices of Service. 4TROOPS toured for a year or so, then slowly disbanded in 2012.
The nonprofit aims to use music as therapy for service members who are coping with post-traumatic stress and other service-related effects, and Henry teamed up with Cathie Lechareas, the nonprofit’s executive director, to make that vision come to life.
“When she explained to me her vision … it was so heartfelt,” Henry said. “No matter what the anxiety, music can be a great gateway.”
Voices of Service began around 2012 and has since performed at military events, hospitals such as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and more.
America’s Got Talent
Voices of Service’s reach grew when the group took a shot at an audition for America’s Got Talent in January.
Once their video was accepted, the group traveled to New York City to do an in-person audition for the producers, who moved the group on to a live audition in front of the judges later in the spring.
“In reality, at first we thought our audition wasn’t good enough because we didn’t hear back for a while,” Henry said. “Then one day, we got a call.”
Show business is exciting, but Henry said simple things along the way remind him of the group’s true motivations.
On the last round of show filming last month, Henry said a cameraman approached the group with a personal story of his own: His daughter had been robbed at gunpoint and was still dealing with the trauma associated with the experience.
It resonated with Henry and the group, because they aim to help those suffering with post-traumatic stress, veteran or not.
“At that moment … I said ‘Sir, pull out your camera,’” Henry said.
The group recorded a video to send to the man’s daughter, letting her know they understand what she’s been through and encouraging her to use music as a coping mechanism.
She later thanked the group.
“To know that we’ve affected one person in one situation, that is the whole reason we do this,” Henry said. “We’d love to win America’s Got Talent, of course, but that’s the whole reason our heart beats.”