Thursday, March 13, 2008

Do we really need Army Bands?

I’m actually reading in Standto that starting late in FY 08 , all Army bands will be changed to organize bands into separately deployable/employable Music Support Teams (MST). These organizations can be deployed alone or combined with other MSTs to provide different types of music support.

I may get some flak from the Band members out there, but something strikes me odd that we are deploying soldiers as band members and hiring contractors to provide security…. Shouldn’t that be reversed? Frankly I think we would have fewer issues with hiring bands to fill needs for “music support” using same contract vehicles we used for cooks, etc in combat theaters. We reduced the number of Army Cooks years ago recognizing we could contract those skills and the result is much better selection and faire in dining facilities in the combat theater.

Why are we training a number of soldiers to fill roles that are prevalent in the civilian workforce… and it may not be PC to say this, I’d rather have an IPOD for my music support than lose the count of one soldier to play an instrument. If there are 20 soldiers in each band element across 10 organizations we are spending 200 soldiers to produce music I can get in a simple electronic gadget. (Although as a disclaimer, I don’t have much martial or band music on mine)

We need to rethink all aspects of our army to improve efficiency for every soldier trained. Antiquated Victorian institutions such as Army Division Bands don’t fit well in an organization that is struggling to maintain adequate warfighters in boots on the ground.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you. Multiply the waste of Army bands by the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.

MajorDad said...

I'm not sure I can find a thing wrong with your logic. I'm sure that you won't begrudge certain organizations the "standard" military band...Fort Myer, West Point, etc come to mind...but the 1st Cav's piper that used to keep me awake during the day (while I was trying to get some sleep for night surveillance missions), the 4ID Band (couldn't 1st Cav/4 ID share one? Yes, I'm here at Hood), as well as the many others that are probably out there in the active and reserve components.

No, I think you've nailed just one of the specialties we could probably contract out...OR civilianize in order to have a more appropriate "tooth to tail" ratio.

See you on the high ground!


Anonymous said...

Yes, we need Army Bands... but not the kind you seem to know or remember. I deployed twice with the 1st Cav Band to Iraq racking up some 2200+ missions to the entire Multi-National Division, Baghdad. The bands of today are equipped with the soldiers and stage gear to perform a number of popular genres of music, to take it to to troops where MWR & USO don't go, and do it often enough to make a difference in troop morale.

Yes, even I carried an iPod because it is an effective personal motivation tool, but a live band is not recorded music. By sending the band in, you offer the war-blown soldier a chance to focus on something entirely different. He/she has the opportunity to feel the vibes, attend concerts with groups, or maybe just hear a pretty melody at dinner. In the remotest of stations, the band coming to entertain also reminds the soldier that headquarters remembers them and cares for them. Bands were sent into the jungle on occasion for the same reason. It's not all about noisy ceremonial bagpipers (which the Cav does NOT have, thank you.)

Can bands be replaced by contracted musicians? Oh, sure. But, do you think that professional musicians would be willing to go in and out of the Green Zone and all Foward Operating Bases for a year or more at a time? Would they be willing to take the rocket attacks, wearing protective armor and convoy at the continued risk to their lives? The answer is a resounding, "No!" You need those few great Americans who are willing to share their extraordinary talents with Army and are willing to do all that it takes to be a soldier in a combat zone. You may know that Army musicians are soldiers first, but are auditions before joining the Army in order that we have the best of the bravest.

LTG Pete Chiarelli, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division during OIFII (2004-05) said it best. During that year his division had no suicides despite some of the roughest fights of the war. He turned to me and said that he held the band highly responsible for the welfare of his soldiers.

The 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions have bands in Baghdad now, and the 76th Army Band out of Germany is up north. They are doing 15-month missions and have 95 to 100% music-only duty. There is an enormous call for live entertainment and not just the famous stars who blow in and blow out a few hours later with the USO. I'm not knocking them, by the way. I think people like Robin Williams and a car load of other famous stars do our troops a fantastic honor by their presence overseas. But, there is way more to be done to keep the men and women in the game.

Anonymous said...

Here's my two cents. Why not take this philosophy and apply it to all parts of the military so that the only people we have in the military are strictly trigger pullers. Contract everything and anything. Here's what that means. No military doctors, lawyers, admin folks, cooks, maintenance workers, truck drivers, and anyone else who does not pull a trigger for their job. All combat service and combat service support jobs will be contracted.
I guess what you are asking is why do we still need bands? That's a fair question, but it also shows a lack of understanding of the role they play in the military. While deployed, they bring a piece of home to the Soliders, Airmen, and Marines. They also help to pay final respects to those who are not able to make it home. Speaking of home, military bands perform hundreds of times a year to help keep the Amercian fighting man and woman on the minds of the people. They also do a great deal to recruit the next generation of our military.
I have seen and enjoyed many military bands over the years and think how lucky we are as Americans to have fine people like this serving our country.

Stan68ar said...

I certainly have great respect for the soldiers in the bands - like many other skills, they train as soldiers first meeting every aspect of soldier requirements. Those I have met over the years are committed and skilled in their craft and worthy of respect.

I am confident that I never saw or heard the 1st Cav or 3rd ID bands in Iraq when I was there (2004-2005) and can't say I have a good basis of knowledge about their performances or the effect on soldiers.

I am pointing out the overall disparity in what we contract and what we still maintain in our Army's inventory as skills. As was pointed out - there are potentially other skills which could be contracted - some are partially (truck drivers, logistics, water purfication) - perhaps others should be considered.

At any rate - appreciate the comments - always good to get more of the picture and I thank those that took the time to write.

Anonymous said...

You have to remember that military bands are not just for the military. They are a large part of Public Relations for the military. Some bands tour the U.S., giving concerts for civilians, in an effort to keep the support of the American people behind its military. Many bands do this locally as well, giving free concerts to civilians. Bands also do high profile gigs, such the Inaugural Parade, national anthems at major sporting events, even appearing on late-night talk shows!

The Army Bands Program also has a large educational outreach mission, going into schools from elementary to college, representing the Army. Ultimately, they are "soldiers representing soldiers" in this capacity. The Chief of Public Affairs and Secretary of the Army use bands for all kinds of events. It is one of the few ways the military can get to the general public with a positive message. Otherwise what many people will see their entire lives are images of Iraq, Afghanistan and military scandals publicized in the media.

Monetarily, this is the reality: If you were to cut the entire Army Bands Program, the savings would run the Department of Defense for 82 minutes. This "savings" would be ridiculous, considering all the good Army bands do.