Songs4Soldiers: Gulf War veteran organizes concert for other vets

News-DemocratSeptember 8, 2013 

The 2-year-old twins weren't happy.

Charlie lay on the living room floor crying. Eva didn't want to get out of Dad's white pickup.

"They were fine at the Zoo," said Dustin Row (rhymes with "wow"), who likely was as tired as the twins that late afternoon.

He did his best.

"You know what the sad part is, all of us would love to do this," he said, hugging Charlie close, then getting a diaper for Eva. "We all feel this way sometimes."

Dustin, a dark-haired 29-year-old Gulf War vet and musician, is organizing a concert to benefit veterans, along with helping care for the twins and a 10-year-old son, working for Columbia's Public Works department, performing in a band and organizing a concert.

The Songs4Soldiers concert is 4 to 11 p.m. Sept. 14 at Market Place Shopping Centre in Columbia.

The concert replaces Tiny Fest, a smaller event that benefited different causes each of the last four years.

"The idea came to me in March to make it much bigger," said Dustin, a drummer with Where's Charlie?, an indie rock band. "My grandpa (Russell Row Sr.) passed away in early May. My last conversation with him was about this. ... Hearing the beautiful things people said about him at the funeral, that was the final moment that made me dive headfirst into this."

Russell, a U.S. Navy veteran, served as a radarman on the USS Boxer CVA-21 for three years in the Korean War.

"I was presented with his flag at his funeral," said Dustin, "since I was the only one in the family who served. It was an honor."

After getting out of the service, Dustin struggled with questions many vets have.

"Why am I still alive? Why did my friends die? Why do I still have all my fingers and toes?" he said. "Why did I fire into that building during that firefight? Who else was in there? ..."

He feels fortunate.

"I came home," he said.

Dustin got hired by the city in 2005 after his Iraq tour.

He bought a house on a quiet cul-de-sac in 2010. He and his girlfriend Dayne Wittenbrink, who attends Barnes School of Nursing, share care of their three children, son Ayden, 10, and twins Charlie and Eva.

"The twins will be 3 on Veterans Day (Nov. 11)," Dustin said. "It's great because I have their birthday off every year."

Dustin offered the twins a snack, opening the refrigerator and letting them choose their favorite flavor of frozen ice.

"Charlie, let's take that shirt off," he said. "Every Popsicle, half goes down his chest."

Dustin is aware of how fortunate he is to have a family, a job and a band.

"I want to help people who didn't have the same thing I came home to. Everyone here was nothing short of spectacular."

He also hs received a great response on songs4soldiers.

"I wrote up a summary of what the idea was. I sent it out to virtually anyone I thought could help, and personally called 90 percent of them. That's something that's hard to get used to, asking people for money. Our sponsors have made it easy. George Weber took over official sponsorship."

Other folks around town, from event planners to attorneys, have stepped up. Dustin's assistant, Kim Siegel, heard him talking about songs4soldiers at the gym where they both work out.

"Dustin is just so passionate about it," said Kim, an institutional salesperson for Stifel Nicolaus. "It just comes from a really good place in him. (Songs4soldiers) feels good to work on. ... Sometimes it's hard to get involved with bigger organizations. They're so established that it's hard to think you're making a difference."

Girlfriend Dayne sees Dustin's passion for veterans.

"It's something he's already been through and feels fortunate he made use of the experience the way he did."

Dustin, a 2002 Columbia High School grad, joined the U.S. Army Reserves three months before Sept. 11, 2001.

"I was sitting in government class when I saw the planes flying into the World Trade Center," he said, sitting at the kitchen table with a twin on each leg. "I was only 17. I did the delayed entry program. From the time I got done with boot camp, I was on active duty. 9/11 changed the entire world."

Including Dustin's.

"I was thinking one weekend a month; two weekends in the summer," he said. "I'd get a little college money. I had no idea it would take me down the bad roads and the good roads it did."

He was part of the 724th Transportation Unit out of Bartonville, near Peoria.

"You do a lot of training, but I don't think anyone can prepare us for firing at a human," he said. "It's crazy. After the first firing, you find out everything changes. Everything will stay changed. It stays with you like stink on manure."

His view of the Gulf War has changed.

At first, he was a 21-year-old kid just happy to be home, but the war didn't leave him at peace.

"I was tore up by inner demons, friends dying. I went through phases: Screw them Iraqis. As time passes, anger goes away. You get to where you have sympathy for the enemy and Iraqi people. How would we react if foreign people were in our country? You come to really respect Iraqi people for their patience and resilience, for getting through a horrible situation."

And you do your best to help others in tough situations.

"We will choose four vets from here. We're getting a lot of emails from people recommending a loved one. We'll have a committee of five people select four soldiers. Not me, I will present their stories."

How much would Dustin like to make from the concert?

"It would be cool to bring in $20,000 or $30,000,"

A 50/50 raffle and profits from Songs4Soldiers T-shirts also will help the cause. That's shooting for the stars

"I truly believe we have started something special that only has room to grow."

If you go:

What: Songs4Soldiers concert to benefit military veterans

When: 4-11 p.m. Sept. 14

Where: Market Place Shopping Centre in Columbia.

Cost: $10

Details: The event will showcase four St. Louis bands, The Honey, at 4 p.m; followed by SuperJam, a high energy St. Louis group, featuring members of the band El Monstero. Super Majik Robots will follow, with hits from a variety of genres. Finally, Where's Charlie? featuring members of This Must Be the Band (Talking Heads Tribute) hits the stage. Where's Charlie? covers range from Rolling Stones and the Beatles to The Black Keys and Katy Perry.

Food and drink: Available from six Columbia restaurants, including Tiny's Pub, Reifschneider's Grill & Grape, Who Dat's Southern Food, Bully's Smokehouse and Joe Boccardi's. Chateau La Vin Wine Shop will sell wine and snacks.

How to get a Songs4Soldiers shirt: They're $20 and available at Bare Hands Crossfit, 223 N. Main St., Columbia or through the web sites, or

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