My Life in the Army Band Program
One day while taking in the aroma of a grill filled with hamburgers, I was having a conversation with a young man who had just gotten out of the Army. He knew that I had recently dropped out of college abandoning my pursuit of a music education degree. He told me stories of how Army musicians had the best job he had seen during his enlistment. No tents, no wars only a life of touring and performing. I immediately went to my local recruiter who confirmed everything I had been told.
The Lies Exposed
Before I had time to think twice, I found myself on a musty bus headed for hell. I remember saying a couple of words to the recruit sitting with me. I was instantly assaulted by a madman; the “hat”, one of Satan’s minions. “DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!” the evil man screamed. I replied “no”. That was a mistake. I was branded a liar and one not to be trusted. The rest of Basic consisted of 8 weeks of wicked sadists delivering cruel and degrading commentary on everything from my mother’s infidelities to my lack of any quality Uncle Sam may be able to use. By the end of Basic Training, I knew why recruits are sent hundreds of miles away from their recruiters.
Out of the Frying Pan…
In Basic I met Hell’s supervisors, but it wasn’t until I got to Ft. Polk, LA that I experienced Hells temperatures. To keep morale up, weathermen were not allowed to tell us that the heat index was often 175 degrees. I didn’t care though because I finally got to play music. The band was good too, because we had a lot of talented musicians who were exiled to Ft. Polk for such infractions as fraternizing with Basic students at the School of Music or testing “hot” on their urinalysis. We went to Mardi Gras to perform in the big parades every year and it was a lot of fun playing jazz in New Orleans. Finally I got a taste of what I thought being in the Army Band should be. Most of the time we spent on parade fields playing ceremonial music for change of command ceremonies, sometimes playing as many as five a day.
During my career, there were three types of bands: Division Bands, AG Bands and MACOM Bands. I was assigned to all three during my career. MACOM Bands were reserved for the strongest players and assignments to these bands were the most musically rewarding and provided the best chance for travel. While serving in Heidelberg, I traveled to many countries, played for heads of state and toured England extensively. This band played at a very high level and also had a very good chorus.
Service members in the bands were often reminded that we were “soldiers first”. This was proven during countless deployments for band members to Iraq, Bosnia and other forward deployed areas. While in Bosnia, we had a military and a music mission. The personnel in my units always proved to be outstanding soldiers. Whether being in convoys or standing guard, bandsmen performed their duties with pride and efficiency. I must say that it is a strange feeling to fly from FOB (forward operating base) to FOB on choppers with instruments and rifles. I played a lot of music in dangerous areas. Once in Iraq, we performed music near enough to where Saddam was being held to be fairly certain he heard it. Being a soldier is not always glorious. I remember a young specialist sitting across from me on a chopper getting airsick and projectile vomiting on some of us. That’s a smell I won’t forget and it was a long ride back.
The Best Part
Being a soldier is belonging to something bigger than you. It’s forming bonds and making friends you’d trust with your life. We played hard, prayed hard, waged war, made music and always had fun doing it. Joining the Army was easily the most rewarding decision I’ve ever made. If you are a soldier, be proud. When you see a soldier, thank them.