The Ten Best Pre-Mission Songs For Combat Operations

Updated: May 28, 2015


By Pablo James


“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.” – Henry David Thoreau, January 13, 1857.

From the dawn of warfare, music has played a role in the lives of the soldier. From the days of Civil War troops playing harmonicas and singing folk songs to the soldiers of the 80s selecting a precious handful of cassette tapes for their Sony Walkman until today when young troops can put hundreds of their favorite songs on their smartphone, music has always accompanied American warfighters into the fog of war.

Who amongst us did not get pumped up when Faith No More’s Falling to Pieces plays during Blackhawk Down as the boys from Task Force Ranger load up and prepare for battle? Or when Forrest and Bubba fly over the fields and rice paddies of Vietnam to the sounds of Credence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son in the 1994 hit movie, Forrest Gump (or in Tropic Thunder, Battleship, and pretty much any movie about Vietnam…).

All of us use music to get pumped up for something cool like a work-out, a sexual tryst, or a road trip with your best friends, unless you’re a filthy, Occupy Wall Street-loving, half a sissy, pacifist hipster…and even then you probably listen to Neutral Milk Hotel’s cover of an Arctic Monkey song or something to get you pumped up for a long night of being a pretentious asshat at the poetry slam, right?

Every couple has their song, right? (Which, roughly translates into the song that the lady half of the couple has deemed significant, but for purposes of this article and sanity on the home front, just go with it, ok?) So, why should being a diesel-fueled, lead-slinging, Silverback Alpha going out to forcibly extend the hand of freedom be any different? Either individually or as a unit, the American warfighters need their song. It’s that tune (or tunes) that put you in the mindset to fight, win, and survive. It’s like a fighter’s walkout song, but for combat.

So, I conducted extensive research to find the very best songs soldiers treasure as the very best songs for combat. And by extensive research, I mean I texted and Facebook messaged about fifty veteran friends and asked for their input. I sought their input on which song, or songs, would be the very best for playing in their team room or squad/platoon CP as they made their final preparations to get airborne or head outside the wire.

The following list is by no means exhaustive or in any order:

Bodies by Drowning Pool – Is there a more aggressive and blood pumping song out there to prepare you to kill the enemies of America than Bodies? Sometimes referred to as “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor”, Bodies is pretty much a given and should be on any playlist for deployments.

Thunderstruck by AC/DC – If there IS indeed a song more well suited for combat operations than Bodies, it is Thunderstruck. Over decades of making loud and fast music, AC/DC’s Thunderstruck stands out. In addition to being the song boxing legend Manny Pacquiao walks to the ring with, dozens of sports teams use it for their games. It’s like We Are the Champions after it slams a four pack of Red Bulls in the alley behind the Sydney Opera House at four in the morning.

The Gael by Dougie McLean / Promontory by Randy Edelman (Soundtrack of Last of the Mohicans) – This song, the only instrumental on this list, is from the 1992 Last of the Mohicans movie soundtrack. The Randy Edelman song is derived from the 1977 song, The Gael, by Dougie McLean accompanies the final battle scene from that movie and embodies the warrior spirit. It’s relaxing, motivating, spiritual, and aggressive at the same time. It’s also a great song to listen to when you get together with your buddies, pour a few rounds of Guinness, and reminisce about your fallen comrades.

Turn Down for What by DJ Snake and Lil John – This is one of the most heart-pumping songs the world of hip-hop has given us thus far, which is a bold statement. It’ll make you bedazzle your canteen cup into a Lil John chalice and fill it with Rip-its.

160thBullet With a Name by Nonpoint – This is the song the 160th SOAR pilots piped into the headsets of the DEVGRU team that took out Bin Laden during Operation Neptune Spear to get those guys psyched for the most high profile direct action mission in U.S. military history. OK, I actually just made that shit up, but most of you totally believed it because if the Night Stalker pilots WERE going to blast tunes on that mission, Bullet With a Name would be the song they’d choose.

Enter Sandman by Metallica – There’s no shortage of songs in the Metallica library for inclusion in this list, but Enter Sandman from their 1991 album, Metallica, tops the list – at least among the combat veterans I polled for this article. Honorable mentions go out to For Whom the Bell Tolls from their 1984 album, Ride the Lightning, and Seek and Destroy from 1983’s Kill ‘Em All.

Danger Close by G-Meng –  Full disclosure: This jam has a special place in my musical collection because it was part of an album written and recorded by one of my soldiers and a couple from our sister companies during our OIF deployment in 2010. To this day, it resides in my gym/running iPod playlist as one of my top ten jams for working out or rolling out on missions. G-Meng is a combat Infantryman and Ranger (Ranger qualified soldier for you Batt-Boys), making him one of only two veterans in this list.

The Outsider / Counting Bodies like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums by A Perfect Circle – Both songs are haunting pieces that are significantly slower and darker than the previously mentioned selections. Of note, Perfect Circle (and Tool) front man, Maynard James Keenan is a military veteran. Enlisting in the Army as a Forward Observer in the early 80s, Keenan was the distinguished graduate of his basic training and AIT classes and earned a place in the Army’s prep school for West Point. In 1984, he declined his appointment to the United States Military Academy in order to pursue his musical career.

Indestructible by Disturbed – Disturbed is another band that has a huge selection of songs that are worthy of inclusion in this list, but here’s the thing about Indestructible…it was made for this list. No, seriously, it was made for us. In a 2007 interview with Rolling Stone magazine (I know, but bear with me), Disturbed singer David Draiman described this song as an anthem for soldiers deployed overseas. Draiman said, “It’s meant to be something that would make them feel invincible, take away their fear, make them strong.” How fucking cool is that? It’s like a stripper anthem for America’s finest warriors. If you can’t get behind that, you might be a Michael Bisping fan.

This list is by no means exhaustive or absolute (except Thunderstruck, which is actually carved in stone somewhere as a perfect combat song), but it’s a pretty good snapshot of the music a soldier should have in his or her collection for jamming to before a combat mission. The hardest part of doing this article was discarding the dozens of great songs that could make this list. Finally, thanks to everyone who chimed in and opined about their experiences and preferences.

As a final note, I offer one honorable mention: Rob Zombie’s cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s classic, We’re an American Band. Why? One, it’s a Grand Funk Railroad song. Two, it’s Rob Zombie. Three, it was previously covered by Autograph, Poison, and the Village People and they all suck. Four, Rob’s version kicks ass. What are your questions? Carry on.




  1. Phelps

    May 28, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    How did you miss Don’t Tread On Me in the Metallica section?

    So be it / Threaten no more / to secure peace is to prepare for war

  2. James

    May 28, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Iced Earth comes to mind.Especially the album “The Glorious Burden”

  3. Common Sense

    May 29, 2015 at 2:22 pm


    How did you pick Thunderstruck?

    HELLS BELLS!!!!! That is the pre-mission classic, and it blows Thunderstruck away.

  4. Alex F.

    May 30, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Um, no “For Whom The Bell Tolls”???

    Used to listen to that before every mission. “Take a look to the sky just before you die, it’s the last time you will”…..I’m not even an Airborne or AA guy and that line still gives me a freedom/combat boner

  5. Dale Compton

    June 1, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    I would be negligent if I did not mention Dogs of War-Pink Floyd, War Pigs & Iron Man – Ozz\Black Sabbath.

    Then again I suggest Oh Death by Ralph Stanley

    The time of purification is at hand..

  6. joe

    June 1, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Indestructible by disturbed is banned from radio reconnaissance vehicles to date there are 2 IEDs 5 purple hearts 2 totaled pick up trucks (both stateside) and one thermite canister deployment because of that song

  7. John

    June 2, 2015 at 2:33 am

    You forgot to include Celine Dion’s “I Drive All Night.”

  8. Bill

    June 2, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Dope-Die MF Die

  9. Manuel Salcido

    June 2, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Chevelle- the red
    Too many to name. Lol

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