The Bugler

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Military Bands

The United States spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on dozens of military marching bands, rock groups, jazz ensembles, choruses and country music performance teams. Is this excessive and unnecessary spending in the current economic climate? Walter Pincus of The Washington Post looked into this after hearing Defense Secretary Robert Gates discuss budget priorities last year and make a statement that there are more military band musicians in the Defense Department than the State Department has foreign service officers. No one was able to provide Pincus with total figures on how much is spent on military bands. The Marines reported that they spend $50 million on their bands. The Army estimated $198 million as the biggest employer of musicians in the country - between four and five thousand.

According to the U.S. Army's Field Manual on Army Bands:

"1-1. Bands provide music for ceremonial and morale support within full spectrum operations to sustain warriors and to inspire leaders. Deployed bands are capable of reinforcing positive relations with host-nation, multinational, and joint forces. Army bands communicate through the broadcast and print media to foster support of American citizens, both while deployed and at home. Live performances in parades, concerts, and other public appearances represent the Army and our Nation while promoting national interests. Bands support the recruiting mission, provide comfort to recovering Soldiers, and contribute to a positive climate for Army families. Army bands of the 21st century are organized, trained, and equipped to conduct concurrent operations in supporting multiple objectives with targeted musical styles.

1-2. The flexibility and versatility of Army bands, both in Active Army and Reserve Component, enable the employment of music performance teams (MPTs) to meet strategic and tactical goals while simultaneously fulfilling home station requirements under the application of Army force generation modularity. Army bands are able to adapt specific music support teams to serve the troops at forward operating bases (FOBs) while simultaneously supporting the warrior transition units and home station missions. Soldiers, families, and communities both at home and abroad benefit from concurrent band operations."

I fully appreciate and understand the effect the Army’s bands have on Soldier morale. When I was serving as the CG of the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad and the Commander of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, our bands were the most well-traveled units in country. Their performances were critical to easing stress and bringing a little bit of America to Soldiers who badly missed their homes and loved ones.
General Peter W. Chiarelli, 32nd Vice Chief of Staff, Army

"1-3. Music performances specifically designed to reach U.S. Service members, joint forces, and allied forces will deliver messages of pride, inspiration, team spirit, cohesiveness and common goodwill. Live music helps Soldiers to refocus and relax in the times of high stress. The Soldiers of Army bands are prepared to bring the music to high-risk environments often under conditions that are unsuitable for civilian commercial entertainment.

1-9. ... Army bands have a direct impact on mission success in shaping perceptions, attitudes, and opinions. Capable of producing programs for television, radio, and live performance, bands reach a diversified public with a positive message. While in the community, band members are often in face-to-face contact with the citizens, thus bands work to represent the Army values off the installation.

1-10. Contemporary and traditional music are assets to the Army prospect and awareness campaigns. Army bands conduct musical skills clinics at high schools and colleges and appear at sporting events, job fairs, and events. Army bands also reach the public through active participation in parades, fairs, festivals and community events."

I served proudly in Army bands for 24 years and performed for hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families throughout the world. I have worked and played in refurbished buildings that ranged from Quonset huts in Korea and Hawaii and an abandoned wing of the hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado. I’ve played in rain storms, snow storms and temperatures over 100 degrees for my fellow soldiers, and I know that I have made a difference. … We were trained to perform our daily musical duties and maintain our soldierly skills. There is not a single division band that I know that hasn’t been to Iraq for at least one tour, some two or three times and they are not there just to play music. … At any given time, an Army band must perform ceremonies, concerts, dances, brass and woodwind quintets, stage band, rock band, Dixie band, as well as pop music. Music is the universal language of peace and has been spread around the world by our ambassadors.
                                                                                       Jim Lewis in an blog post

Historical perspective
Horns, trumpets or drums were a part of military strategy dating back to biblical times, as indicated by stone reliefs from around 3000 B.C. depicting Assyrians and Babylonians parading brass instruments in military victory.

Again from the U.S. Army's Field Manual on Army Bands:
"1-12. The Continental Army of 1776 depended upon quality musicians for regimental drill. The inspiration of the marching band was a significant contribution in the victory at the Battle of Bennington in 1777 as the band led the troops to the battle. By 1832, almost all regiments had a band, and by mid-19th century, regiments had additional field musicians of drummers and buglers to sound calls for specific times and to transmit commands in battle.

1-13. From the first formations of the Continental Army, bands were included in the ranks to provide music for two main purposes: ceremonial functions and bolstering troop morale. Drummers and buglers were primarily engaged in a signaling capacity; larger ensembles generally provided inspirational music in support of troop morale."

Stated hours to be assigned, for all the drums and fifes, of each regiment, to attend them and practice -- Nothing is more agreeable, and ornamental, than good music; every officer, for the credit of his corps, should take care to provide it.
                                                                                General George Washington

Field manual success stories
U.S.-Russian Relations
          In 1996, the 1st Armored Division Band deployed from Bad Kreuznach, Germany, in support of Task Force Eagle in Tuzla, Bosnia. The band received a tasking to send the rock band, "Mo' Better Blues," to play specifically for a Russian unit stationed at Camp Ugljevik in the dead of winter over snow covered mountain roads. The trip would take them through the heavily mined zone of separation with a convoy of five vehicles, two with crew-served weapons. Traveling a very slow speed because of the slippery roads and the possibility of mines at the side of roads, the normal 45-minute trip took 4 hours.
          The U.S. liaison officer met the band upon arrival and showed the members to the performance venue: the mess hall. The liaison had been there for a month, but had had very little progress in "breaking the ice" with Russian cooperation. They set up by adapting the one thin-wired 220-volt outlet to power their full set of speakers and electronic equipment.
          The Russians jammed about 200 soldiers into the small mess hall. Most were conscripts and did not look particularly happy to be there. The band, led by Staff Sergeant Alvin "Mo" Morris, played a list of classic rock tunes as well as some country music, and the Russians enthusiastically responded with demands for multiple encores. The U.S. liaison officer stated that the band had done more for U.S.-Russian relations in 90 minutes than he had been able to do in 30 days.

The Cuervo Ceremony
          On the morning of 8 April 2004, a convoy carrying 27 members of the 1st Cavalry Division Band rolled out from Camp Victory North near the Baghdad International Airport. The band traveled in unarmored tactical vehicles escorted by the 20th Engineers, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. The mission was in support of the first Iraqi Civil Defense Corps officer graduation ceremony at forward operating base (FOB) Cuervo on the east side of Baghdad. Twenty-five members of the band from the 1st Cavalry were in the rear cargo of two trucks, seated on sandbags on the flatbed cargo areas. Two additional troops were driving in the cargo truck filled with band instruments. The 25 band troops rode with only the canvas tarp for concealment. The personnel trucks were the third and fourth vehicles in the convoy; the equipment truck was the fifth.
          The mission was to be a quick ride to the other side of the city starting on the multilane highway Route Irish. A wrong turn took the convoy south toward FOB Falcon, but before a correction could be made, an explosion was heard at the rear of the convoy. According to the Soldiers in the 6th vehicle, a rocket-propelled grenade passed in between the fifth and sixth vehicle narrowly missing the 5th truck. After the escorts returned automatic gunfire, the convoy turned around, proceeded back through the kill zone, and completed the mission to the FOB Cuervo ceremony. The combat action badge was later awarded to the 1st Cavalry Division bandsmen involved in this action.

The Shanghai International Wind Band Festival
          In April of 2008, the 8th U.S. Army Band was invited by China to participate in the Shanghai International Wind Band Festival. The first American military band and the first American military unit in recent history to enter the country, they performed over 5 days for live audiences of over 500,000 and televised audiences in the millions. As U.S. ambassadors, they won the prodigious cheers and applause of the Chinese audiences as they performed American music of Elvis Presley and John Williams as well as traditional marches in a concert, a parade, and a nightly military tattoo. Association between the two countries' bands was initially reserved and withdrawn, uncertain of how to conduct mutual foreign relations. However, a positive climate was built by the third day of living and eating together when conspicuous small, impromptu Chinese and American music groups began harmonizing. The 8th Army Band out of Yongsan, Korea represented the U.S. Forces Korea and the U.S. Pacific Command.

The "universal language of peace"?
What do you think? Is such an expenditure of tax dollars frivolous and wasteful, as was the opinion of Walter Pincus of The Washington Post or is it acceptable because, put in perspective, it is only a small percentage of military expenditures? What about the cultural service to the community and in transforming and uniting people in so many parts of the world? We think the bands and music performance teams win the hearts and minds of citizens both here and abroad - patriotism at home, friendship abroad. We can never have too much of that! More power to them! Don't stop the music!

For more information ...
U.S. Army Field Band:
U.S. Army Bands:
The President's Own:
U.S. Navy Band:
U.S. Air Force Bands Program:
U.S. Coast Guard Band:

9th Annual Steve Young Honor Guard Competition - May 14th
This is hosted by the Fraternal Order of Police Grand Lodge and sponsored by several police suppliers, including Glendale and Teams demonstrate their discipline and professional skills in friendly competition in performance categories that range from inspection drill to posting of the colors. This event offers the challenge of intense high-quality competition and provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and the building of friendships between honor guard teams. The competition is named in honor of Steve Young, past national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. It will be held in Washington, DC at John Marshall Park - Pennsylvania Avenue at 4th Street, NW - as one of the events during National Police Week.

For more information:

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