Frontman Matt Thomas talks about the band's emotional trip to visit with soldiers on the front lines

By Danielle Anderson
Updated April 02, 2015 09:45 PM
Credit: Shawn Pennington /BBR Management

The guys of Parmalee recently embarked on a nine-day, six-country Navy Entertainment Tour where they played for troops serving in combat zones – and not surprisingly, they call the experience “life-changing.”

“We’ve never done any international travel. I mean we’ve been to Mexico and Puerto Rico, but never over the pond, as they say,” frontman Matt Thomas tells PEOPLE of traveling to Europe, Africa and Asia with bandmates Scott Thomas, Barry Knox and Josh McSwain. “This was huge for us.”

The best part, the guys say, was reaching the men and women stationed in remote areas that are not often visited by other performers.

“Probably the coolest, most touching moment is when we went to play on the battleship the USS Dewey,” says Thomas. “We were on the big aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson and then we took a helicopter to the small battleship. They told us when we got on that battleship that some of these people have been active 14 years and have never had anybody come visit them. The entertainment always goes to the big ships, but nobody ever comes to the small ships.”

For the band, the distance traveled to be there was definitely worth it – and Thomas says they got as much out of the experience as he hopes the soldiers did.

“We just basically sat on the back deck of the battleship and gathered around campfire-style. They cut all the lights off, turned all the generators off and about 80 soldiers and sailors got out there,” says Thomas. “They were so enthusiastic about it. It was just really cool. We’re out in the Persian Gulf on a battleship and it’s the middle of the night, it’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop and we’re out there singing,” he says. “Sitting on the back deck with those soldiers on that battleship was pretty emotional.”

Hearing the soldiers tell their individual stories only added to the emotion.

“We were only on that ship for one night, but there were guys there that haven’t been home in so long,” says Thomas. “We were having dinner with one of the sailors, he’d been out for six months and had 80 more days to go. He talked about his five boys at home and was showing us pictures of them.

“Another soldier spoke of his daughter. He said he’d missed his daughter’s whole second grade – that’s the reality of how long they’re gone. As a kid, if you think about being in school, it was forever to get through a whole grade and that’s the time span that they’re gone for! Those kind of stories just hit you at home. You really see the sacrifice that they’re making.”