1st Marine Division musicians provide security for some of the Corps' top commanders
By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register | Published: June 24, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — Staff Sgt. Jeremy Matt, a trombonist with the 1st Marine Division Band at Camp Pendleton, knew he had to be as precise with his M-16 as he was the slide on his instrument.
The 14-year career Marine musician was recently overseeing a group of his band members during one of four annual training events at Camp Pendleton. The members of the famed “Blue Diamond” field band, not only have a mission to inspire patriotism and build morale among the troops, they also provide security when the 1st Marine Division deploys.
“We pride ourselves in being ready, lethal and engaged,” Matt said. “Being ready is the biggest part. Anytime our general goes forward, we go with him as a security division. We are some of the first people you would see if you entered a compound. We do perimeter patrols, vehicle searches and monitor entry control points.”
Getting ready is exactly what they were recently doing as they set up a compound on Range Kilo 1, deep in the interior of Camp Pendleton, to train as a security team.
Along with the cluster of tents and vehicles, Marines sat in machinegun nests guarding the perimeter. Others patrolled routes near the compound, looking for improvised explosive devices and suspicious activity.
At one point, a group made entry and it was up to the musicians/security guards to find out why they were there. When they discovered weapons, the group was apprehended and turned over to a military police unit.
“We wanted to make it as realistic as possible,” Matt said, adding that during a real deployment it’s critical to determine the reason someone is approaching a compound. “We didn’t know who they were and what threat they posed. They could be townspeople, visitors or someone trying to infiltrate the base.”
Matt and his 35 Marines of the Blue Diamond 1st Marine Division Band trained over five days. Marines with previous deployment experience took part in the exercise to add real-life scenarios into the mix.
Once done training, Matt, 32, said he was confident in his Marines’ ability to provide the necessary security should it come time to deploy again.
“We discussed what went right, what went wrong and we learned from our mistakes,” he said. “We learned a lot. I work with some of the best Marines in the Marine Corps.”
The 1st Marine Division Band was organized during World War II. Since then, band members have deployed in support of several operations, including Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom I and II
Most recently, the band was deployed to Iraq, working as security officers, platoon commanders, convoy commanders and security platoon sergeants. Before that, they took control of perimeter security for a compound operated by the U.S. Army in Ramadi, Iraq.
When they might head out again, is anyone’s guess. Typically, the band deploys when the 1st Marine Division goes as a whole.
Mostly, though, the band is focused on its primary mission which includes performing 400 concerts throughout the U.S. and world each year. The Blue Diamond has appeared in parades throughout Southern California, including the Swallows Day Parade in San Juan Capistrano and most recently in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day.
The Marine Corps has 10 bands. Marine musicians play in field bands, such as the Blue Diamond, located on bases or in a premier band, such as “The President’s Own,” which perform for the president and military leadership. Some play at funerals.
For Matt, a trombonist who last week also took the top score in a combat marksmanship instructor course, the field training is as critical as the band’s daily rehearsing schedule.
“It’s surprising how similar the two are,” he said. “In both, there are numerous decisions that have to be made that will dictate the outcome of either. They both rely on every Marine to be at their absolute best. They both require you to be engaged, lethal and ready.
“In rehearsal, if you don’t prepare for the rehearsal, you slow the rehearsal down just like if you’re in the field and you don’t know your job” he said. “It hinders the lethality of the security force.”
Matt, who grew up with his grandparents near Baton Rouge, La., has played the trombone since fifth grade. It was the only instrument his grandparents had and the one he had come to love as a child walking along the streets of New Orleans.
“Nothing beats the sound of the trombone when they do that big glissando,” he said. “It’s big, proud and angry sounding.”
He played through high school. He had an opportunity to get a baseball scholarship to Louisiana State University, but chose the Marine Corps instead.
Once he met the recruiter, he said he was hooked. “The way he presented himself, the professionalism and the sense of brotherhood.”
It wasn’t until after enlisting that he discovered the Marine Corps, with 350 job types, had opportunities for pursuing a musical career.
His recruiter took him to see the Marine Corps Band perform in New Orleans. “Listening to them perform, I knew that’s what I wanted to be,” he said.
But, not just anyone is selected and Matt had to audition. “I was nervous and I practiced a lot,” he recalled.
Like any other Marine he went to 13 weeks of recruit training at Parris Island, S.C., and then on to Marine Combat Training. Then he went to the Armed Forces School of Music in Virginia Beach, Va., which also trains Army and Navy musicians.
“It was also where I was introduced to our mission as a security force,” he said. “We had a platoon sergeant with the 2nd Division Band who went to Iraq. He taught us that, ‘You’re a musician, but you’re also a Marine.’”
Matt has traveled the world spreading the Marine Corps’ message through music. Some favorite stops have included New Zealand, where the band played for the residents of Christ Church after the 2011 earthquake; American Samoa, where they played for high school students and at an orphanage; and in Shanghai, China.
“I remember being in the streets of Shanghai,” he said, “and playing our ‘Marines Hymn,’ and the audience just cheering for America.”