1st Armored Division Band marches off to Iraq
European edition, Sunday, September 23, 2007
WIESBADEN, Germany — As the person in charge of his unit’s armory, Sgt. Jason Baker paid a visit Thursday to the small-arms shop on Wiesbaden Army Airfield.
Baker’s unit is leaving for Iraq over the next several days, and he needed to check a few things out with the gun guys.
“They were asking me, ‘What are you going to be doing down there?’ ” he said.
On the surface, that might seem like an odd question, given the enduring war and the fact Baker is a soldier. But he’s also a tuba player in the 1st Armored Division Band, which helps explain the note of disbelief at the arms shop.
First Sgt. Scott Headley likens such reactions, intentional or not, to high school jocks mocking band members.
“If that were to last for the rest of your life, then you would know what it is like sometimes to be an Army band,” Headley said. But, he added, “Folks miss you when you’re not there.”
The 1st AD headquarters is now in the process of deploying to northern Iraq, and joining the ensemble is the division band — about 40 musicians in all.
Military musicians are an interesting lot, and well-educated, too. Within the 1st AD Band, more than half have a bachelor’s degree, a few have earned their master’s and one among them has a doctorate.
“We’re not just the rock band that comes for a week,” said Spc. Tabitha Royce, a 29-year-old flutist. “We’re with them for 15 months.”
So what will the band do downrange?
Besides playing for the troops, band members will help with force protection duties, Headley said. Additionally, some will assist intelligence officers in reviewing video surveillance material.
“The cooks are going,” Headley said, referring to the 1,200-strong headquarters force. “The truck drivers are going. In my mind, the band is always going to go.”
It did in 2003-04, the last time the 1st AD headquarters deployed.
This time around, the band will replace its 25th Infantry Division counterpart. Headley said there are at least two other Army bands in Iraq — the 1st Cavalry Division and the 3rd Infantry Division.
During the invasion, when the 3rd ID was advancing on Baghdad, its band members were along for the ride, and they weren't gripping instruments. Some musicians drove trucks. Others stepped into turrets, guns at the ready.
“They were doing the same thing as everyone else,” Headley said.
He estimates that at least 30 percent of the time the band’s resources will be devoted to duties other than its core mission, which is to play music,
To date, no Army band member has died in combat in Iraq, and Headley isn’t aware of any battle injuries. Still, some musicians, like a lot of other soldiers deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, think of that possibility.
“I’m a little nervous,” said Spc. Brian Cotton, a guitarist. But being there and playing for soldiers “will help morale, give them a break from all their missions,” he said.
The plan is for the band to get out and play for forward-deployed troops as often as possible. The brass calls it “strategic outreach.”
But it is, after all, what the 1st AD Band has trained for — as musicians and as soldiers.
“They’ve got the discipline of being a musician behind them,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gary Dorrell, the band commander. “That kind of dedication, that kind of commitment transfers well over to the military.”
“To put it in Army terms, we train, we sustain and we execute,” Headley said. “To put it in musical terms, we rehearse, we practice and we perform.”