Hard stays positive on The Deployment by countering his hardships with his pride in his job, but over the phone he chokes up a couple times during our conversation. Music is one of his outlets, seeing a "military shrink" is another, and in between he struggles to work through the damages the war has inflicted. He has trouble sleeping some nights, another theme in his songs. "The nightmares come and go, and I hate that so much," he says. "You think, 'God, when is it going to stop?' But I wouldn't trade anything or take anything back, because I'm proud of who I am."

His symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder aren't limited to night terrors. "I don't like to be in big crowds," Hard admits. "I get a little shaky and I feel dizzy and I have to leave. I was at a Lil' Wayne concert and I spent all that money and then I had to leave." Hosting concerts is another obstacle most other rappers don't think twice about. For Hard, it's both therapy and a direct line to the memories that inform his words. "When I perform live, I always find myself tearing up. You want to get the words right and everything that's going through your mind is about why I wrote that.

"You start remembering that and remembering people. I just try not to cry a river onstage," he says with a laugh, "but it is hard."

Soldier Hard: Repping Vallejo and Iraqi war vets.
Soldier Hard: Repping Vallejo and Iraqi war vets.

But neither tears nor dangerous war zones stop Hard from continuing his career in the military and on the mike. On a brief leave home this week, he will perform live in Fairfield. His new disc has earned him profiles on El Paso, Texas' NBC affiliate KTSM-TV, as well as on current-affairs program American Microphone. And although he won't volunteer to return to Iraq ("I'm looking into jumping on a mission to Afghanistan — it'd be easier to explain to my mom," he says), if his orders take him back there he'll grab his recording equipment and go.

Any troubadour can write a song about the war — almost none write from the side of having served in one. Soldier Hard brings the battle home in more ways than one.

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