USS ESSEX --
Marines and Sailors crowd into the hangar bay of the USS Essex (LHD 2) and pack themselves around a stage. Humidity fills the area and the blue lights of the ship reflect off their skin as a sailor announces the next act for the ship’s talent show.
When introduced, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Brianna Mikus takes a step onto the stage with her guitar for her second performance during the deployment. The crowd begins to cheer.
“I didn’t even know those people knew me,” Mikus said. “I just got on stage and everyone started screaming.”
As she played, everyone joined in clapping or singing along, forgetting about the heat and deployment for a moment and focusing on the music.
Mikus, a radio operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, grew up around the military in Glendale, Arizona. Her uncles, grandfather and father were in the Marine Corps and Air Force, inspiring her to join Marine Corps right after high school.
“I’m a third generation Marine,” Mikus said. “From the age of four they had me out in the backyard marching around with a rifle and stuff so this is all I could ever picture myself doing.”
Now that she is on her first deployment, she uses her music as a getaway from the daily stresses of work and being away from home.
“It’s not easy being away from family and your spouse,” Mikus said. “It’s difficult when so much is going on at home and you’re just stuck on a boat. [Music] just kind of helps you forget where you are, even if it’s only for a moment. I can just sit down and lose myself in the song and stop worrying about [any problems going on]. Whatever you’re feeling, music helps you get away from it.”
Mikus started playing music when she was 10-years-old. She started on the drums but wanted something more portable that she could play anywhere, leading her to the guitar.
“When I was about 12, my grandma took me to go buy a little guitar off of Craigslist and I pretty much just locked myself in my room one summer and taught myself how to play,” Mikus said. “I’ve been playing ever since.”
Mikus started writing her own music when she started playing. At first, she said it was something she kept to herself and for her family. However, she started playing at her church as well as at her school.
“In high school I would take my guitar to school and play for lunch money and gas money to get home at the end of the day,” Mikus said. “So I think I’ve come a long way from there.”
Now that she is deployed, she continues to write and play both in her shop as well as during the ships’ talent shows.
“I like playing music for people because it’s cool to see how it connects to them,” Mikus said. “Like if you’re playing a song they know and they sing along with you, or you play a song that’s emotional and it touches with someone’s struggle that their currently going through. It’s just cool to connect with people on that level.”
Cpl. Garnett Jackson, one of Mikus’ coworkers explained that her music reminds him of home and makes him forget about work for a moment.
“It just puts me in a different place all together,” Jackson said. “She brings people together through her music. Everyone has someone that they love and they miss, so generally when they hear her play, it gets them more emotional. They forget about the stress or what’s been going on during the work day.”
During the show, Mikus encourages the Marines and Sailors to clap along and get into the music.
“I want people to feel the music,” Mikus said. “Even if they don’t know the words, I want them to at least go with the rhythm of the guitar.”
The song slows down and comes to an end and the crowd cheers as Mikus steps off the stage and makes her way to her spot in the crowd. The next performer takes the stage to show off their talent and Mikus sees how far she has come from when she was playing for gas money at school.
The deployment has given her the opportunity to continue creating music for her fellow Marines and Sailors as well as her loved ones at home.