WADDINGTON -- Sgt. Austin J. West works as a U.S. Army recruiter, but on Aug. 25, a rock band performing during the Huk Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament here recruited him for his guitar skills.
Sgt. West and Army Staff Sgt. Joe Contardo set up an Army recruiting tent at Whittaker Park, where fans of the tournament gathered to party and socialize. Sgt. West, 24, a native of Mandeville, La., has been in the Army for five years. Before his current recruiting duty at Fort Drum, he was assigned to the First Cavalry Division Band at Fort Hood, Texas. He joined the Army as a telecommunications operator.
"It's funny because my recruiter didn't mention there was a band," Sgt. West said. "It's actually the only job in the U.S. Army where you have to have the skills before you obtain the job."
Several days before Sgt. West and Staff Sgt. Contarto arrived at the Waddington recruiting duty, their boss emailed the band Dirty Deeds XTreme, an AC/DC tribute band that performed during the "Party in the Park" at Whittaker Park. The email explained that Sgt. West would be in the village and that the soldier had some serious guitar skills. The soldiers never heard back from the band.
While members of Dirty Deeds XTreme were warming up, Sgt. West went to the stage to shoot the breeze. Sgt. West -- who coincidentally earlier this year released the YouTube video "AC/DC (Guitar Cover) Military Trubute" -- asked band member Freddy DeMarco if he could jam with the band during their live show.
The band member, who performs as Angus Young of AC/DC, told Sgt. West to arrive at 7 p.m. showtime.
"I asked him if he wanted to hear me play first," Sgt. West said. "He said, 'No. Since you're an Army musician, you gotta be somewhat decent.'"
At around 9:30 p.m., he was welcomed to the stage in front of a crowd that numbered around 10,000 people.
"It was kind of spur of the moment, like, 'Yeah -- let's do this,'" Sgt. West said.
The moment was filmed by an Army buddy.
"Sgt. West is offering his duties," Mr. DeMarco told the crowd. "Let's give it up to all the military, to the armed troops, to all the people who keep us free to do this tonight!"
As Sgt. West arrived on stage and before Mr. DeMarco walked off stage, the tribute band leader told the crowd that the band had never heard "this gentleman" play guitar.
"He had a lot of integrity when he talked to me," Mr. DeMarco said.
Mr. DeMarco then handed his Gibson SG Angus Young signature electric guitar to Sgt. West for the band's version of the AC/DC song "Thunder Struck."
As Sgt. West ripped into the song and the crowd cheered, the Army guitarist grew more comfortable, strutting across the stage, almost duck-walking at one point. A fan in the front row gave him a cowboy hat, which he sported as he played.
"I improvised the solo," Sgt. West said. "It was done on the spot, just off the top of my head."
Sgt. West said the experience is one of the reasons he thinks he has one of the best jobs in the world.
"Sometimes I wake up and can't believe I'm an Army musician," he said. "I tell everybody it's a great job."
Sgt. West's wife, Jessica M. West, is also an Army musician. She plays French horn with the 10th Mountain Division Band.
"It's the best career you can have as a musician," Sgt. West said. "It's a steady paycheck, free health care and dental. You name it, we cover it."
"It" includes a live cover version of "Thunder Struck" on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Northern New York.
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