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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Despite drastic spending cuts, the U.S. Air Force is transferring another band to Japan and adding 150 performances to its schedule for the coming year.

Military bands have been under intense pressure, with Congress threatening to withdraw $125 million in support for the morale-boosting ensembles. The DOD has already pulled the plug on four of its 152 bands, with another eight packing away their equipment for good in fiscal 2013.

The Alaska-based headquarters of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific is scheduled to relocate to Yokota Air Base in the coming weeks, along with a 15-piece jazz band that will join the rock ‘n’ roll unit already at Yokota, according to Air Force Maj. Michael Willen, commander. Pacific Air Force officials said a seven-piece rock band and a six-piece brass quintet based in Alaska will be eliminated by fiscal 2013.

The Air Force Band of the Pacific, which includes 54 personnel, performed about 750 times last year, including about 140 concerts in Japan. And despite the unit’s $800,000 annual budget being slashed in half, the move to Yokota will mean more than twice as many concerts in Japan, Willen said.

In past years, the band has played concerts in Singapore, South Korea, Guam and the Philippines, but this coming year most shows will be closer to home, he said.

“We will play just as many concerts,” Willen said. “We may have to re-evaluate where we are playing them and the kinds of transport we are able to use. We may stick to things we can drive to or blend travel with existing military flights.”

Even in this age of austerity, military bands are still necessary, Willen says. They can help break down barriers and allow leaders to engage local national officials in a disarming environment, he said.

“Normally we see a very positive response from the audience because we are a very nonthreatening asset for our country,” he said. “We like to help facilitate conversations and relationships.”

The U.S. Army has two bands in South Korea and one in Japan, while the U.S. Navy has a band in Japan and the Marine Corps has a band on Okinawa. None will be cutting personnel but some also face budget cuts.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Stephen Campbell, 58, of Memphis, Tenn., the U.S. Army Japan band leader, said his band, which played 200 concerts, including 25 in Japan’s tsunami battered Tohoku region last year, is looking for sponsors to help offset funding cuts.

Campbell said Japanese local governments may be asked to help with transport, meals and accommodation for military musicians playing at events in Japan this year.

Correction:Due to a source error, the report had incorrectly stated that no bands in the Pacific theater were being dismantled during the latest round of defense cuts. Pacific Air Force officials said a seven-piece rock band and a six-piece brass quintet based in Alaska will be eliminated by fiscal 2013. Additionally, the story stated that the band’s budget was cut in half to $500,000. According to Pacific Air Force, the original $800,000 budget was cut to $400,000.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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