KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — It will soon be the last curtain call for some stateside U.S. Air Force bands.
The Air Force announced Tuesday that it will eliminate three of its bands and downsize two more as part of broader force structure measures designed to meet current budget constraints.
The band reductions will eliminate 103 positions, the Air Force said. The bands will maintain current operations until about June 2013, when the staffing changes will begin. Personnel affected by the moves will be reassigned to other Air Force regional bands, with openings expected as a result of normal attrition, the Air Force said.
The bands planned for deactivation are the USAF Band of Liberty at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., The Band of the Air Force Reserve at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and the Band of the Pacific-Alaska, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, according to an Air Force news release. The Band of The Air Force Reserve, formed Oct. 1, 1941, at Mitchell Field, N.Y., as the First Air Force Band, is the service’s oldest band, active or reserve, according to the band’s website.
The two bands to be reduced by more than half their current members are the Band of Flight at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and The Heartland of America Band, at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., the Air Force release states.
The Air Force’s bands in the Pacific and Europe theaters appear to be safe from the current round of cuts. A U.S. Air Forces in Europe spokesman said Wednesday that the 45-member USAFE Band was not being trimmed.
The Air Force appears to be the first service to announce cuts to its bands program. But the Army, which lists 34 active-duty bands from Texas to Belgium on its website, could soon follow suit.
“The Army is currently considering a Force Design Update for bands that best allocates personnel according to the Army’s requirements and gains efficiencies,” said Paul Prince, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, in an email to Stars and Stripes on Wednesday. “If any reductions are required among the Army’s total number of band personnel, this decision will be made in a careful and deliberate manner to preserve force readiness.”
Once thought untouchable, spending on the military’s 154 bands came under scrutiny by some in Congress last year who argued the Pentagon couldn’t afford to keep spending millions of dollars on military bands in the current austere budget environment. An attempt by some House members to reduce the Pentagon’s band funding by $120 million failed.
Though he never formally proposed reducing spending on bands, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates brought attention to the issue when he observed that more money was spent on military band members than on State Department diplomats.
The military says its bands serve as both a recruiting and public relations tool, inspiring patriotism and promoting the military mission both at home and abroad.
The Air Force has 12 active-duty and 11 Air National Guard bands, according to the service’s bands program website.
The Air Force in 2013 will reduce its overall end strength by 3,900 active-duty, 5,100 Air National Guard and 900 Air Force Reserve members.