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Songs from the Sea

ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 6, 2017) U.S. Navy Sailors sing during a jam night session aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), Aug. 6, 2017, in the Arabian Gulf. Nimitz is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and strike group are conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce. (U.S. Navy photo by Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Rachel Kuebler)

Maintaining strong, healthy relationships can be hard for anyone, and can be even more difficult for military personnel. The stress of being gone for extensive amounts of time is felt strongly by both the person leaving and the one left at home. After observing and experiencing this first hand, Airman Maxwell Holmes began writing songs about it.

Holmes grew up in Houston and had been writing poetry and rapping for several years, but when he joined the Navy in December 2015, it gave him a new opportunity to expand his talents. After hearing a Navy friend perform, he was inspired to start writing his own music. Shortly after, he received his first guitar and began to seek coaching and mentoring on how to be a well-rounded musician.

“It’s one of those things that maybe you had the whole time and you just have to find it in yourself,” said Holmes. “I was really insecure at first and didn’t feel comfortable performing in front of other people. In the Navy, you stop caring what you sound like and just want to express yourself.”

Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Ethan Charles Franz, from Lebanon, Ohio, has known Holmes since boot camp, which they attended in 2015. They were also roommates in “A” school, and checked into USS Nimitz (CVN 68) at the same time. Franz has taken the role as Holmes’ unofficial manager and enjoys watching his friend grow as an artist.

“He’s always been musically inclined,” said Franz. “One day he was playing, and it was really, really good. I told him he should start performing in front of people. Before he put out his first song, he would sing for me and a couple of other guys in the liberty center and would always ask us ‘How does this sound?’ He was always super nervous. Once he realized that people were actually listening to his music, he noticed the audience was vibing to it. That’s when he realized how good he was and it was pretty cool.”

With his background in writing poetry and rapping prior to joining the Navy, writing music came naturally to Holmes. All he had to do was conquer the nerves of performing in front of an audience.

“It got a lot easier,” said Holmes. “The first time I sang in front of people was at an open mic night in Bremerton. Over time, you start to care more about the music and not about how people looked at you and how you’re viewed. You just express yourself.”

Holmes now performs almost effortlessly whenever he takes the stage.

“I don’t think I’ve ever missed a show,” said Franz. “Now, he doesn’t even acknowledge that the audience is there. It’s like he’s just playing for his friends.”

Holmes describes his music as very emotional and passionate. Every song written is inspired by either a personal experience or something he’s witnessed a friend go through. His songs often touch on the hardships of being in a relationship while in the military. One song he wrote, known as the deployment song, was written specifically about what it feels like to be underway and away from home for long periods of time.

“When I wrote the deployment song, it was more based on my own experiences,” said Holmes. “I wrote it when we were underway during COMPTUEX (Composite Training Unit Exercise). I had a lot of friends in relationships and getting engaged and I was also talking to someone. When you really think about it and soak it all in, it’s a lot, not being able to stay and build something. All you can do is hope that she’ll still be there when you get back. (The deployment song) has a really determined ‘make it work’ vibe.”

Holmes said that music is all about the experience and soul that goes into it. It’s about creating a magical moment for someone to relate to and enjoy. He prefers to write his music while the ship is underway, because the water is clear and peaceful.

Fortunately, Holmes’ friend from home had recently graduated from the Media Tech Institute in Houston, and helped Holmes record his first album in May, 2017. His album is called Deep Down.

“I think certain songs connect a lot quicker to people in the military, especially spouses,” said Holmes. “But, anyone who wants to be involved can be. Anyone who has emotions can connect to my music. Just because people hide their emotions doesn’t mean they don’t have them. I’ve seen people of all ages enjoy my music. It’s all about the soul.”

Writing and producing music is something Holmes said he never imagined he would have the chance to do. He hopes that his musical journey will inspire others to do what they’re passionate about, despite the odds.

“Follow your dreams,” said Holmes. “I never thought I would actually be writing and performing my own music. There will always be obstacles, there will always be something in the way. But if you don’t do your best to do what you love, you’ll end up doing something you don’t want to do.”

Holmes is very thankful that through the experiences in the military, he was able to find something he’s passionate about and express himself in a way he never thought possible. He sees his experience in the Navy as a stepping stone in life and plans on pursuing a career in music outside of the Navy.

Holmes is currently assigned to USS Nimitz. Nimitz is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and strike group are conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce.

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Story by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Emily Johnston

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