Ten years into her job, Charis Humphress Strange still has moments when the wonder of it all catches up with her.
“I can’t believe I’m on this journey, but at the same time I can look back and see how everything has happened to get me to this point,” she said.
Sergeant First Class Charis Strange is in the 29-member Soldiers’ Chorus, the vocal complement of the United States Army Field Band. The choral ensemble travels throughout the nation and abroad performing separately and in joint concerts with the Field Band.
Charis’s parents, Don and Charlotte Humphress of Campbellsville, Ky., say her musical talent surfaced as early as age 4, but she began to take it a bit more seriously in her teens. She was a senior in high school when University of Kentucky vocal professor Dr. Everett McCorvey, in town to direct the All-District Chorus, asked if anyone could sing a high C.
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“I raised my hand,” recalled Charis, now 39. “I was so young, I didn’t even really know to be nervous. I just sang it.”
McCorvey recruited her to UK, where she learned the art and technique of singing and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. Shortly after graduation she headed to New York City with a fire in her belly to be an opera singer.
A few years later, after only marginal success, Charis and her husband, Jim, moved to Columbia, S.C., to both pursue jobs in education.
The year she taught middle school chorus and drama helped her realize that her passion for singing wasn’t something she could just put away.
When Charis learned of the Soldiers’ Chorus job opportunity, Jim encouraged her to pursue it because it would offer her the musical career she longed for. She auditioned, got the job, and at age 29, joined the Army.
“When I raised my hand and took that oath, I cried because I was so happy,” Charis said. “Someone asked me if I was scared of basic training, and I said ‘Are you kidding me? I’m a soprano. Do you know how much competition there is out there for sopranos? I’ve already faced down much tougher things than basic training.’”
The job requires time away from Jim and their son Atticus, 6, during 40-day spring and fall tours and shorter tours each summer. Stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland, the band and chorus prepare four different programs for each tour.
Charis credits McCorvey with instilling in her the discipline and work ethic necessary to perform daily and meet the demands of being a soldier.
“When I called to tell him (McCorvey) I was in the Soldiers’ Chorus, I wasn’t sure how he would react,” Charis said. “But he was so proud of me. I’m very honored by his support.”
But even more meaningful honors come during the tours, when she and her fellow musicians get a chance to meet those in the audience.
“It’s very humbling to meet families of soldiers who didn’t come back or veterans who sacrificed a portion of their lives for their country,” said Charis. “These people are so awe-inspiring. I love serving my country, and I love being a soldier musician.”
WOMEN IN THE ARMY
Women joining the Army today have far more opportunities than females during the American Revolutionary War, who took on traditional roles as nurses, seamstresses and cooks. They also don’t have to disguise themselves as men, as more than 400 women did to be able to serve on both sides during the Civil War.
Most women who enlist today aren’t necessarily doing it to break gender barriers. Their reasons for joining often mirror those of their male counterparts, explained Staff Sergeant Mandy Platt, center leader in the Army Recruiting Center in Somerset.
“Both young women and young men who enlist these days are doing so because they have a desire to serve their country,” said Platt. “Many of them want to continue a family tradition of service. They’ve heard all the family stories and they know that the Army is tough, but they’re willing to take that challenge.”
The Army’s recruitment website, goarmy.com, reveals that very few of its 150 career opportunities are closed to women. Imagine all of the jobs necessary for a city to survive on its own, and you’ll find those jobs in the Army — police officers, construction workers, mechanics, physicians, engineers, pharmacy technicians, communication specialists and more. The website also offers information about how those Army positions can transition into civilian jobs.
Platt, an Army-trained paralegal before becoming a recruiter, will mark eight years of service in July.
“I love that the Army offers me the chance to go and do things I never thought I’d have the ability to do,” said Platt, who was deployed to Afghanistan for nine months in 2012. “The Army took me straight out of high school and gave me all the training to be a paralegal, and it continues to provide for my family and for my education. It’s been a great choice for me.”