Retired U.S. Army Veteran Bill Jones, who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, is the new roadie for British hard rock band Def Leppard.
“It is an amazing feeling to be on the other side of the fence because you get to see a different side of the group, their personal side, less of a celebrity and more human side and that’s an awesome things to see,” the retired CH-47 Chinook pilot, 37, said.
After a nationwide search through thousands of veterans who applied to join rock bands KISS and Def Leppard as roadies for their joint 2014 summer tour, Army veteran Jones and Marine Corps veteran Kayla Kelly were selected during a packed performance at the Usana Amphitheater in Salt Lake City last Monday.
Retired Field Radio Operator Kelly, 25, of Lake Grove, New York, is now in charge of setting up the VIP section for KISS for the band’s acoustic shows for VIP’s and fans like her. “To be a KISS roadie and be involved in the production is extremely exciting,” she said. “I wanted to be part of something awesome.”
This is the second time the bands have hired veterans as support personnel to show their commitment and support for military retirees. “It is an honor to have anyone who served [in the military] with us,” KISS frontman Paul Stanley said. “These are the people who make it possible for you at home and for me to enjoy the freedom that we have and they are owed not only a hero’s welcome but whatever they need to work their way back into society.”
Def Leppard lead vocalist Joe Elliott said, “Having our own wounded warrior in [drummer] Rick Allen, we’ve always had a close tie with the military. To carry on and further our contribution by giving a little back and, hopefully, helping fulfill a dream or two; we’re more than happy to show our support.”
Allen, 50, lost his arm in a street-racing accident when he was 21 but continued to play.
The bands’ hiring of roadies is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Hiring 500,000 Heroes campaign that launched in March 2011 to assist veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses find meaningful employment.
The unemployment rate for veterans who’ve served since 2001 is 9 percent. For young veterans ages 18 to 24, the jobless rate is 21.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both bands have agreed to donate $2 of every ticket sold to various military nonprofits, including Hiring Our Heroes, the USO, Project Resiliency/The Raven Drum Foundation, Augusta Warrior Project and Wounded Warrior Project.
Def Leppard roadie Jones says his transition out of the military has been challenging. “I went from a very structured military environment to a very different civilian market so it has been challenging to get a job,” he said. “I was either over qualified for some jobs, and others I just didn’t have the experience.”
Drummer Allen said, “What we’re doing is setting an example and showing people that just because you’ve been in a situation like Bill has or anybody that served or has been to war that people like Bill they are hirable and employable and there should be no stigma attached like PTSD.”
Kelly and Jones joined the military after the 9/11 attacks. “After the terrorist attacks, it was something I felt I really needed to get involved,” Jones says.
Jones, of Clarksville, Tennessee, was deployed twice during his 12 years in the Army. His first deployment was in 2003 and he was part of an infantry unit that went to Kuwait for the initial push into Baghdad. His second tour was in Afghanistan in 2010.
“I’d never been into a combat situation before and I joined because I wanted to serve my country. I was terrified but I tried not to show it,” said the father of six who joined the Army in 2001 and retired in June 2013.
Jones’ role as a roadie is to assist the stage manager and he hopes to learn the trade with the hopes of continuing working with bands. “To be on tour with the rock band is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would have been stupid to not apply for it,” Jones said.
As for Kelly, she knew she wanted to join the Marine Corps when she was on the seventh-grade. Her father was injured during the 9/11 attacks and that was her motivation to join.
“He worked for the New York Fire Department and the fact that he got hurt and he lost a lot of great man and friends that day was hard. I remember how scared everyone was and seeing my father suffer. It was very hard for him,” says Kelly, who grew up listening to KISS with her dad.
Her favorite KISS song is “Rock and Roll All Nite,” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard.
Kelly’s first duty station was in Okinawa, Japan, and she was also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Kelly says that since separating from the military in 2011, she has been struggling to find a job.
“The disconnect that you have with people who can’t relate to what you’ve been through and to not have your best friends and your brothers and sisters supporting you is very difficult and so finding a job is a struggle,” she said.
Jones has been working with the Wounded Warrior Project as a PTSD advocate for a few months. He hopes that his being a roadie can also help highlight his experience with PTSD and “dispel some of the myths” associated with people who suffer from it. “It is just not a veteran disorder,” he said.
Jones and Kelly will ride along on the 42-city North American tour. “I’m glad this opportunity came up for veterans because there aren’t that many opportunities out there and two extremely well-known bands are putting it out there that they want veterans, Kelly said.
“And that says a lot because not everybody is going above and beyond to hire veterans.”
Second Tour is an ABC News digital series profiling the lives of military veterans who are doing unique things in the civilian world. For more stories, click here.
ABC News’ video editor Benjamin Schellpfeffer contributed to this report.