Stephanie Vinisky Holmberg is a mother, singer and former nurse, but she is equally proud of her oft-overlooked identity as a military spouse. Holmberg describes military wives as strong and resilient, which seems to be an understatement for the many women – herself included – whose husbands have endured several deployments.
“The military community is so warm and so welcoming,” Holmberg said. “You could meet another military spouse and in five minutes they’re your best friend because they’re in the same boat.”
Holmberg, who grew up in Canonsburg, formed a bond with 36 military wives across the country when she was accepted into the American Military Spouses Choir. The choir, which has performed primarily at Christmas concerts in the Washington, D.C., area, made its debut this month at Radio City Music Hall while competing on the popular NBC show “America’s Got Talent.” Their next live performance in the semifinals will be televised Sept. 3.
Holmberg has always loved singing. Marilyn Vinisky, Holmberg’s mother, said her daughter, as a little girl, used to dance and sing along to Michael Jackson playing on a boombox.
“If you wanted to see Stephanie sing and dance, shine a light on her,” Vinisky said. “She loved the spotlight.”
Holmberg has participated in church and high school choirs and sang the national anthem during college basketball games. When she became a nurse, she started a talent show and sang to nursing home patients.
“When they would pass on, we would get a group together and open the window and sing a little memorial to them,” Holmberg said. “Singing never left me. I’ve always wanted to pursue it in some aspect.”
Last year, Holmberg recorded herself singing a Bonnie Raitt song, sent it in as an audition for the American Military Spouses Choir and was accepted. The all-female choir represents all branches of the military, and since members are scattered across the country, they often rehearse via Skype or telephone.
By all accounts, interacting through a computer screen is nothing new for military wives. Holmberg’s husband, Army Maj. Steven Holmberg, was deployed once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.
Maj. Holmberg’s longest deployment was 15 months, which, in a six-year marriage, is “not a great ratio,” Stephanie Holmberg said.
She said her husband’s last deployment was the hardest because he missed the birth of their first child. Yet, by fate or serendipity, Maj. Holmberg received a phone signal on top of a mountain in Afghanistan, which is when he heard his older son’s first cry.
“It was like divine intervention,” Holmberg said.
The couple is now stationed in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., while Maj. Holmberg takes classes at the Command and General Staff College. While Stephanie Holmberg is on the road for “America’s Got Talent,” her parents or husband take care of their children, Chase, 3, and Alex, 1. Holmberg said her husband has been her “number one supporter and number one fan.”
The choir is an initiative through the Center For American Military Music Opportunities, which aims to provide music therapy for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The choir performed a powerful rendition of Mariah Carey’s hit “Hero” earlier this month on “America’s Got Talent,” and Holmberg described the experience as both breathtaking and nerve-wracking.
The winning entry in “America’s Got Talent,” determined by votes from viewers, receives $1 million and a performance slot in Las Vegas. Holmberg said most of the money will go to charities that benefit veterans if the choir wins.
“We’re not that glitz and glamour, that shock and awe kind of entertainment,” Holmberg said, adding that the biggest accomplishment of winning the competition would be “to spark that proud-to-be-an-American feeling.”