Sergeant First Class Jessica Gatlin isn’t just any band manager, and As You Were isn’t just any rock band.
Far from it, in fact.
Gatlin and her group – lead vocalist/guitarist Tom Katsiyiannas, guitarist Austin West, drummer Ryan Kaluza, and bassist Abuid Flores – are all active-duty members of the U.S. Army.
A lifelong drum corps marcher, SFC Gatlin’s introduction to the Army was born of an affinity for music and a desire for more order.
“I wasn’t really happy where I was in college,” Gatlin recalls for SPIN outside of the iconic Stubbs BBQ in Austin, Texas, where As You Were is set to perform later that night.
“I felt that being a musician and going to college for it was maybe not so much in my wheelhouse; I needed a little bit more structure in my life. I just woke up one day and said ‘Maybe I should check out the Army.’”
Initially, SFC Gatlin’s role in the U.S. Army was as a ceremonial musician – a French horn player, to be exact. However, upon deploying to Afghanistan, the command team discovered Gatlin’s strong pipes and promptly put her on stage.
“[From there], I was given this opportunity to become the program manager for [As You Were] and I just couldn’t pass up such an amazing opportunity to really share our stories and be able to show the American public all the great things that the Army can do.”
Regarding the curious yet courageous duty of being deployed as a rock band, Gatlin champions the group’s genre, noting rock’s propensity for pumping people up for often dangerous missions.
“We loved playing for [the soldiers] as they rolled out of the gate. I think it added a lot of motivation for them; we were very happy to do it.”
Unique to As You Were is their opportunity, as a band, to speak to those with an uncertain life path through their music and personal testimony, and SFC Gatlin’s own story provides additional legitimacy to the group’s undertakings.
“We get to tell our stories to people who are kind of in a position where they don’t know which direction they want to take in life.”
Together, the team simultaneously serves its country – which, according to Gatlin, is the number-one priority – and shows that music is both a lauded facet of the U.S. Army (albeit one that may initially seem too good to be true) and a recognized military profession deserving of real-time respect.
“This is our God-given talent that we want to give back to our country to say thank you for everything we’ve been able to do.”
As far as touring goes, the band has begun playing a slew of huge festivals – including Aftershock and Louder Than Life which will see performances by Green Day and Foo Fighters – and each member is quick to attribute the group’s continued success to Sergeant First Class Gatlin’s leadership.
“Jessica Gatlin means a ton of things to our group,” says guitarist Austin West. “She’s a huge bridge between our command team and us, and [she] also builds us into different roles in the Army to not only progress our musicianship but also our military careers.”
Concerning what’s next for As You Were, SFC Gatlin is focused on building a lasting legacy.
“I have a son now so I really want to keep a legacy for him and make him proud. And I want to look back on my career and feel like I’ve fulfilled all of my dreams. Right now, this is a dream come true…to be able to fulfill that through the Army, I’m just super excited about it. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us.”
Watch the full Artist Introspective with SFC Gatlin here.