By Elliott McKenzie,
Music has been a tool for happiness and healing for generations, but for Elliott McKenzie, music became his lifeline.
McKenzie served in the Marines with both the Security Forces and Infantry. With the Infantry he served in 1st Battalion, 5th Marines and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Iraq, McKenzie saw direct fire combat and received the Combat Action Ribbon along with other medals for combat service. After Iraq, he deployed to Okinawa, Japan, as a part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit where he was stationed until he received an honorable discharge.
But almost immediately after exiting the Marines, McKenzie began experiencing PTSD, depression and anxiety. He started falling behind in his classes, ended up on a VA 51/50 after a violent incident at home and lived in his car for a short time before being placed in transitional housing for homeless veterans for a year and a half. After that, McKenzie decided that it was time to start caring for his mental health.
While talking with his therapist, McKenzie was reminded of his passion for music and decided to use this outlet as a form of medicine. During his childhood, he had always been involved in music. He sang in choir and played drums, including years in his high school drumline. He also recorded music while stationed in Okinawa. McKenzie’s therapist, also a former Marine, suggested he use his musical talents as a form of healing. Taking this advice saved his life.
McKenzie immediately purchased recording studio equipment, started songwriting and was asked to perform. The adrenaline release from performing, combined with the expression from songwriting, began to heal him. He went from angry to calm, anxious to relaxed, distracted to focused and worse to better. He returned to college and went from Ds and Fs to As and Bs. He graduated on the Dean’s List with an associate’s degree before earning a bachelor’s degree.
In 2017, McKenzie decided to combine his experiences as a combat veteran with his talents as a musician. He wrote and recorded a song called “Gunshots” to discuss what it’s like to be a veteran with PTSD. Teaming up with another Marine Corps combat veteran named The Marine Rapper, they released the song along with a music video. “Gunshots” received more traction than McKenzie ever imagined. With over 137,000 views on YouTube, the song began to reach audiences far and wide. He was invited to appear on local and national news stations, daytime talk television, radio and more to talk about the song and his experiences during combat.
After releasing “Gunshots,” McKenzie decided to make it his goal to use his music to inspire others. He began releasing inspirational songs like “Know You’re Not Alone,” “Fight Back” and “Failure.” With these songs, McKenzie built a fanbase of veterans and civilians who use his music and story as motivation in their own lives.
In 2021, McKenzie released his debut album, “Therapy Session,” a combination of inspirational songs and passionate R&B songs. The album not only made his dream of becoming an R&B singer/songwriter come true, it also showed the world that a person with severe mental illness can still accomplish great things, become successful and motivate others. Overall, McKenzie’s goal is to inspire as many people as possible through his story and his music. Hundreds of fans have reached reach out to him to share how he’s touched their lives in ways he could have never imagined. His main goal is to continue this mission.
“I realized that my calling is to be an example, not only for veterans but for everyone,” McKenzie told U.S. Veterans Magazine. “Anyone can overcome circumstances such as mental illnesses or physical disability to build a successful life for themselves.”
To learn more about McKenzie, you can visit him at https://Elliottttmckenzie.com or @Elliotttt_mckenzie on Instagram. His album, “Therapy Session,” is available on all streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music.
Caption: Elliott McKenzie singing in uniform. (Courtesy of Elliott McKenzie)