When Allen Morgan heard Joe Gillentine and Jason Hallman strumming the guitar and singing at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center three months ago, he could not resist the urge to sit down and start playing with them. Instantly, there was a chemistry the three men could not dismiss.
“It started with Jason and Joe just playing guitar down in the Serenity Garden,” Morgan said. “I came through one day and heard them playing and I sat down and I started playing. It all kind of snowballed from there.”
They became The Hellmand Project, named after the Helmand Province in Afghanistan. The Helmand Province is known for selling 75 percent of the world’s opium and is a place where many veterans have served. The group added the extra “l” to Helmand to turn it into Hellmand.
“We put a spin on it because it’s one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan. It’s where a lot of our friends, even friends I went to high school with, died over there,” Morgan said. “We added an ‘l’ to it because it’s a hellish place.”
Morgan, Hallman and Gillentine were each in the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center for post-traumatic stress disorder when they met. Making and playing their music gave them a chance to express the feelings and experiences that they could not discuss in conversation. They blend their rock, blues and modern influences together to make one harmonious sound.
“I had lost interest in it for a long time until I sat down with these guys,” Morgan said of playing the guitar. “When I sit down with them and we start to play it’s almost like time stops. Everything’s OK. I can come out of my shell.”
Hallman, who writes the majority of the songs, translates the group’s experiences as well as the stories of other veterans into lyrics.
“I draw from absolute horror, spots in our hearts that have shut down after combat. And I have to get in there and loosen that chain and let that stuff out because it will just straight cripple you,” Hallman said.
Now, the group is continuing to use their music to not only persist in their own healing, but to help other veterans do the same. Since they first met at the Tuscaloosa VA, they have produced several songs and have done a variety of performances for various veterans’ organizations.
Having recently left the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center, the three are currenty living at different ends of the state, making it more difficult to create music together. But they still manage to put together music despite the distance. Hallman said he is looking into buying a house with a recording studio set up so that they can meet there whenever possible to continue putting their music together.
“We sit around and record a little bit on our smart phones and we’ll send it to each other and play it back and forth with each other. We meet when we can meet,” Morgan said.
In the brief three months since Gillentine, Morgan and Hallman became The Hellmand Project, they have seen unbelievable responses. They have had veterans come to them personally to express their support and they have received physical salutes for the work that they are doing.
“So far the feedback that we have gotten is that there isn’t another veteran group out there that’s willing to take on the responsibility of being a voice about war and PTSD and soldier life,” Hallman said
As far as where they would like to see the group go, Hallman said that he would like to see them go all the way. They have been approached with contracts and they are looking to soon release an album. The group has a large amount of music that veterans especially can relate to, Morgan said, but it also covers situations that are relatable to everyone.
“A lot of the content deals with the horrors of war, the struggles that your family goes through when you’re gone. But we cover a wide range of things,” Morgan said. “Love, hate. Just about everything roped in together.”
To learn more about The Hellmand Project and to listen to their music, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheHellmandProject.