06 September 2010

A Brigade’s Worth of Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boys?

Don't get me wrong; I'd like to consider myself a patron of the arts (particularly certain LEGO projects). However, if Secretary Gates is trying to trim some fat from the DoD's budget, he might want to consider that the US Army alone has slots for 4,600 band members, according to a recent article in the New York Times. That's more than an entire brigade combat team's worth of band members.

(According to doctrine manuals, a Stryker Brigade Combat Team should have approximately 3500 soldiers)
The surge strategy in Iraq of sending troops to distant outposts "left a lot of soldiers out there where there wasn't entertainment or morale-type things," he said. The increased use of helicopter transportation in such a conflict zone also argues in favor of smaller groups. The Army band world has adopted an informal motto, Colonel Palmatier said: "If it can't fit into two Blackhawks, it's not going to happen." (Blackhawk helicopters can generally hold 4 crew members and 14 troops.)
The high-profile, large-scale Army bands, of course, remain. Along with the Army Field Band, which tours heavily, they include the United States Army Band, informally known as "Pershing's Own" or not so informally as Tusab. There are also the United States Military Academy Band and the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. The Army has 30 more bands on active duty, as well as 70 Reserve and National Guard bands. All told, it has slots for 4,600 band members.

Army bands have plenty of company in the other services. The Navy has 13 bands; the Air Force maintains 12 active-duty bands, joined by 11 in the Air National Guard; the Marine Corps sponsors the United States Marine Band ("the President's Own") of White House renown, and a baker's dozen other active-duty bands.

[Army bands are divided] into categories: large, usually assigned to an Army command; medium, for the corps level; and small, for division headquarters or individual installations. The bigger the band, the more performance teams.

Note that this article only tackles "official" military bands. God only knows if they took into consideration organizations like the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus and other ensembles.

With a steady increase in the number of generals—a phenomenon Secretary Gates refers to as "brass creep"—comes a natural increase in the number of bands. And calls to reduce bands—however superfluous they might be—will be met with resistance. Consider that division-level bands—which typically cater to the vast majority of funerals and changes of command—are mirrored by even larger Corps- and Army-level bands.

Focus: What do you think? Are all the military bands worth it? What's the greatest performance you've ever seen from a military band?



Unknown said...

I noticed something like this while in Iraq. AFN was always running promo spots for "The Army Experience" or something like that. "Bored with your job? Would you like to do something exciting? If you can sing, play an instrument or run professional sound equipment CALL DSN XXX-XXX". Seems like a waste of time, effort and money. Especially when I saw something similar at Fort Sill. 4 tour busses and 6 semi-trailers worth of equipment.

Josh Kennedy said...

I generally have no issue with the official bands across the Services (i.e. those with a TDA). Certainly some of them could be trimmed off, but overall they serve a useful PR and recruiting function for the Armed Forces as a whole.

What chaps my rear end are the unofficial musical groups, e.g. 82d ABN Chorus. Those groups are non-TDA, created out of hide by stripping understaffed units of talented Soldiers.

My first direct contact was as a CO in 2ID in Korea just over a decade ago. The 2ID CSM showed up on my doorstep, BDE CSM in tow, demanding release of a young lady that had a great voice, one of the wrench benders in our consolidated motorpool. So in Korea you have to drive your HMMWVs everywhere, triple or quadruple normal mileage as compared to CONUS, I'm already 4 of 7 for 10-level light mechanics, now 3 of 7.

Two weeks later the company commanders in the division get invited to mass dinner with th CG. There is my young Soldier, along with 20 other perfectly good Soldiers, singing well and representin'....to entertain the General and a bunch of dumb Captains. Tell me how this "throwback" to colonial Army BS helped me keep trucks on the road (or legal briefs moved out, or awards turned from the PAC, or helicopters flying, or God-forbid, bullets hitting North Koreans)?

In sum: keep the official Army bands, outlaw BS, out-of-hide musical groups. This ain't the 19th Century Army.

Linda said...

My husband is a bandmaster...the structure of bands has changed quite a bit over the years. The band he leads is considered "small". As a conductor in a real-world band, he would not have only 2 clarinets or 2 flutes; he would definitely have double-reed instruments. Yet, the powers that be decided that he didn't need that. Only the larger "special" bands are entitled to double reeds (bassoons and oboes) because their mission is different. No, it is not. My husband's mission is to suppor the post and the community by performing ceremonies, concerts and parades to boost the morale of soldiers and raise support of the local communities. Yes, he's trained as a soldier...he went to AIT and was trained as a musician. He had futher training to become a Warrant Officer and command a band.

It does bother ME (I speak only for me) when they have non-MOS soldiers removed from their regular duty to "be a musician". Once in a great while, you'll see an OJT (on the job trainee) come into the band from a different MOS, but that's not a regular occurrence. When they have The Army Soldier Show, they take soldiers out of regular positions (NONE of these performers are part of the band field, indeed, those who are MOS musicians are not generally allowed to do this) to tour for a year. Yeah, it's a nice thing to do for the morale of the soldiers....but that's why the band has hired musicians!

Same with non-MOS choruses. If you want to do that in your spare time, fine, but don't take people out of their jobs so they can "tour".

One thing I can say...at one point, there was no MOS for a vocalist. Often, because of short-staffed bands (deployed bands are fully staffed, sometimes at the expense of stateside bands), vocalists were not found within the unit. Those who could sing were needed on their instrument. This would bring in a non-MOS singer attached to the band. But now, they've got a full time assigned MOS, so I see no need to attach singers. Choruses are not (with the exception of the big bands in DC) part of the band field.

I could go on and on...but I won't.

Anonymous said...

Between the ceremonial & PR functions, I don't see the band numbers going down much or at all. Would be nice to see some billets cut and then take on the World Class Athlete Program.