Pvt. Kenny Oliver (second from the left), a trainee with 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, stands in formation during his unit's graduation ceremony March 11 at Hilton Field on Fort Jackson. Oliver, who will be going to Advanced Individual Training to be a Religious Affairs Specialist, traded a prestigious music career for Army Greens.
By Rebekah O'Donnell
Pvt. Kenny Oliver who recently graduated Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, with the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment also has another title ... DJ Kenny Oliver.
He once had a successful music career creating and producing tracks for the group LMFAO, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and other big names in the music industry, but he traded them in for Army Greens.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down events and venues worldwide, 29-year-old Oliver, who likes to challenge himself, decided to join the Army.
“Music is something that I’ve done for most of my life — for over 10 years now,” he said. “Last year was definitely a year of not really doing much because of COVID. Since my career has to do with DJing at events and venues … it kind of gave me more time to just be at home and work on music, but at the same time reflect on what I want to do with my life as well.
“I love music; I’ll always love it; I’ll always make it, but I felt like I wanted to get a significant change in my life,” he added “And I thought that joining the Army would be a good idea to make that happen and so far it has been.”
Hailing from Moreno Valley, Calif., Oliver credits his parents for his love of music because of the wide range of genres they would listen to as he was growing up.
“My parents are Mexican so they’d listen to Spanish music or even rock or Nirvana, Metallica,” he said. “They just would listen to everything, so growing up listening to all kinds of music just made me love music. It made me love it so much that when I had a computer when I was a teenager I discovered music-making programs. I just fell in love with making music.”
However, he said his parents were surprised when he told them of his decision to join the Army.
“They were both taken back by it because I’m a musician, so they just felt that if I wanted to do something, I could be doing something else,” Oliver said. “I think that every parent has that fear, you know, every time you think about any military branch you think about war and violence, so they were worried. Once I made the decision and I talked to them along the way (throughout BCT) with the weekly phone calls, they felt more at ease knowing that I’m doing good, and that I’m still here and not feeling down about my decision. So that makes them feel more at ease.”
However, on Day One his cover was blown by one of the drill sergeants during reception.
“So we were at the chapel just waiting to get processed … and he just walked into that chapel and said ‘DJ, where are you?’” he said. “And I just thought he was talking about some person named DJ; I didn’t know it was me. So then, he mentions ‘LMFAO, you know who you are. Stand up!’”
Word spread quickly, and the cadre at Delta Company, 1-34 Infantry Battalion knew about him too, but he took it all in stride.
Oliver "was grounded and very open minded," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Finnerty, one of his drill sergeants. "He was quiet and didn't act like someone who had notoriety. He took all jokes with a grain of salt."
“Once I got here to my company, they knew as well, but it took like three or four weeks for them to mention anything,” Oliver says. “But it’s been fun getting, not made fun of, but just teasing me about that. It’s been funny.”
A self-described “lone wolf” Oliver says going from living alone to living in the bay with 40 other guys has made him more open minded and social, and he enjoyed learning of the other trainees’ backgrounds.
Prior to BCT, Oliver turned to YouTube to try to get a sense of what he could expect his experience to be, but found in reality it was different.
”Before Basic I had this perception in my mind based on YouTube videos that it was going to be non-stop yelling by the drill sergeants, non-stop just in your face every day,” he said, “I guess that stood out to me that the drill sergeants aren’t just yelling machine robots, they’re humans that want to teach you so that you can get better.”
Oliver praised his drill sergeants Staff Sgt. Joseph Finnerty, Sgt. Michael Creer and Staff Sgt. Eloisa as “good drill sergeants,” and enjoyed his battle buddies and platoon.
While the Army will be his primary job, Oliver said he will continue to make music in his free time. “When I have my days off I’m definitely going to be still working on music, still putting out music. I’ll still be active with my career and music for sure.”
Following graduation, Oliver headed to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School on post for Advanced Individual Training where he will train as a Religious Affairs Specialist.