ARABIAN GULF, At Sea --
In the early evening, the sound of beautiful music fills the air, and can be heard throughout the passage ways of the dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47). It carries over the sound of the hustle and bustle of Marines as they relax after a hard day’s work.
Drawn in by the heavenly music, Marines crowd around Cpl. Joshua Backus as he plays scores of music with his violin. The burdens of a deployment seem to drift away from the Marines’ faces with every note that streams from Backus’s finger tips, and for a moment they feel like they are far away from the ship, maybe at summer concert in a park somewhere.
It’s moments like these that continue to inspire and drive Backus, a radio technician with Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, to excel as a musician and a Marine.
“As much as I enjoy playing for me, I like playing for other people more,” said Backus, a 25 year-old from Virginia Beach, Va. “I like showing people the joy that comes with playing music. I think passing it on and helping others to find the same joy I have found in music is the best thing about being a musician.”
What started as an excuse to leave class early has blossomed into a competitive life in the music world spanning 18 years and counting. His desire to inspire others and be the best has shaped his leadership skills and work ethic as a Marine.
“It started with a flyer on the floor. I picked it up and saw that if I did this then I could get out of class,” said Backus, as he chuckled at the distant memory. “I took it to my mom and asked if I could do it and she said yes. That’s what got me in the door, but what’d kept me there for so long was that I soon discovered I was good at it, and was quickly defeating seasoned musicians in competition.”
It is said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master your craft. That’s something Backus has taken to heart, and he has dedicated himself entirely to mastering his instrument. It’s the same attitude and approach he brings to his job as a radio technician.
“My job isn’t easy, but neither was playing the violin at first,” Backus said. “Every day is a challenge, but you find a way to work through it and not only get the job done, but get it done as best as you can.”
As a radio technician, Backus is charged with fixing and replacing faulty radio equipment, but says the real reward comes from the satisfaction he gets knowing what he does is making a difference.
“When I’m done playing a piece for people, I walk away happy because I know I played with everything I have and you see the rewards of your hard work on the expressions of the people watching you,” Backus said. “While the rewards aren’t so instant in what I do, I know that Marines on ship continue to get the training they need in order to complete their mission because of what I do, and that to me is just as rewarding as when I play my violin.”
His work ethic isn’t the only aspect of his personality influenced by his musical talents, Backus’ draws from his experience as a first chair musician to lead Marines around him.
“It takes a lot of practice to be in sync with everyone else,” Backus said. “Everyone has to listen to each other to find that perfect harmony. It’s the same with Marines. We all have to be aware of what each other’s job is and how our part fits in to the overall piece.”
In addition to replacing much needed communication equipment, Backus also provides serenity and peace of mind for the Marines aboard the USS Rushmore.
“The best part of my day is walking down the [passage way] to my berthing after a long day of classes or training, and hearing him play,” said Cpl. Alexander Dalziel, a team leader with Kilo Co., BLT 3/1, 15th MEU. “The best part is he can play anything you ask him to. Just let him hear it a couple times and he’ll start playing it for you. It’s a nice escape.”
Although Backus enjoys his job as a radio technician, his real passion lies in being a Marine and being a musician. He hopes to combine the two and audition for the President’s Own Band, as soon as an opportunity is made available. The band’s mission is to perform for the president of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
“That’s the dream right there,” said Backus excitedly. “It’s a goal I’m working towards every day. Auditions are rare, and come without notice, so I have to always be ready because it’s likely I’ll only get one shot at it.”
Doing what he’s been trained to do as a Marinem Backus will continue to practice and ensure he’s ready when he gets the call.
“Until then, I’ll continue to rehearse and get better,” Backus said with a smile. “Playing different genres of songs on request is great practice for me and makes life on ship a little more bearable for the Marines on ship.”