CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Whether Sgt. Sean Castaneda is recording an album in Hollywood, Calif., or providing imagery intelligence to troops on the ground in the desert of southern Afghanistan, serving his country while pursuing his music dreams are just another day.
Castaneda, 23, originally from Cheyenne, Wyo., enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 2006 as an imagery analyst with 4th Marine Logistics Group. He is currently deployed with 2nd Intelligence Battalion, Regional Command Southwest. As an imagery analyst, Castaneda’s job is to provide eyes in areas troops on the ground may not be able to see, allowing them to know what to expect in areas not visible. This gives coalition forces in the fight the advantage of being able to see the unknown, lowering their chances of taking casualties.
“Think of it as Google Earth,” Castaneda said. “We provide eyes for overhead. Whether it be for a helicopter landing, route plan or a raid.”
“After 9/11, I had it in me that I wanted to serve and do my part for my country,” he continued. “I just didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.”
After tossing around the idea of being a pilot, then changing his mind to wanting to be a paratrooper, he finally decided to join the Marine Corps.
Both his grandfathers served in the Navy, one during World War II and the other during the Korean War. He joked they would be proud to know he is serving his country, but they would have teased him for not joining the Navy.
One of his grandfathers, Jerry, flew B-24 Liberators in the Korean War and served as a major inspiration for Castaneda before he passed away.
“I know a lot of my fascination with the military came from him,” he explained. “I wanted to be a pilot for a while because I know he worked on a [B-24 Liberator]. He was a musician too.”
Whether inherited or not, music would become a passion of Castaneda’s as well.
In 2009, Castaneda deployed to Africa aboard the USS Nashville. A morale event during this tour helped inspire him to pursue his dreams of making music into a career.
“We had the Nashville Idol, which was a spin off American Idol, and I won,” Castaneda explained. “When I won that, it built up my confidence to move to Hollywood to try and make it as a musician.”
In March 2010, he packed up his car and hit the road for the Hollywood hills. When he got there, he started school at the Musicians Institute and began recording his first album. After six months in the recording studio and getting his band, Hollywood’s Angels, gigs at venues such as Liam’s Pub and the Pig ‘n’ Whistle, he released his debut album, a solo rock effort titled “Enjoy the Ride.”
“There were times when I would spend only two hours in the studio recording a guitar or bass track, and then there would be times I would spend four hours recording one vocal for the entire song,” he explained. “Toward the end of the album there was one day I spent nearly 12 hours finishing up mixing the songs and making sure everything was in its proper place. I don’t think people realize just how much effort is needed and is put into recording one song.”
With his first album completed, Castaneda found himself feeling restless – he wanted to deploy.
“I still wanted to deploy to Afghanistan. I’ve always volunteered for every opportunity to get out here,” he said. “When my reserve unit had an opening, I volunteered for it. It’s part of the Marine mindset, to deploy, get out there and do something.”
Now deployed, when Castaneda is not busy providing intelligence support, he gives guitar lessons to fellow Marines and sailors and works on his music chops for a planned second album. Recently he performed during Camp Leatherneck’s Independence Day festivities.
“Anything and everything I’ve learned in the Marine Corps has definitely been used outside of it, especially in Hollywood,” he said. “The motivation, dedication and chasing have definitely given me the confidence to just pack up and chase my dreams.”
He uses his experiences both within the Corps and in Hollywood to be a leader his Marines look up to, said Cpl. Mark Uribe, an intelligence analyst from Sunnyside, Wash.
“Sgt. Castaneda is an excellent Marine and a good guy”, said Uribe. “He looks out for his junior Marines and ways to help us excel in our Marine Corps careers. He treats us all with the utmost respect and falls along the lines of treating everyone the way you want to be treated.”
Castaneda looks forward to returning to California in the coming months to begin work on his second album.
“This time, I have been working on my songwriting skills and trying to be a little more gritty, a little more to the point and true to the rebellious nature of youth,” Castaneda explained. “Think Motley Crue meets Guns ‘n’ Roses in 2011.”