In 1996, I went to graduate school at the New England Conservatory of Music to study conducting. I already had a degree in music education and looked forward to following “the plan.” The plan was to get my degree, teach high school band for about five years, return to school to get my doctorate, and then work my way through the college professorial ranks.
You may be able to guess that I deviated from the plan. My conducting teacher told me about military bands and thought I might be a good fit. After my initial question – “There are military bands?” – I did some research. It turned out that all of the services had bands. Even the Coast Guard had a band (one, and they’re really good). I started calling around and visiting recruiters and before I knew it, I was overnighting a resume and video of myself conducting to an Army band officer; a week later, I was auditioning in Washington, DC. The first day of the audition consisted of performing on my major instrument (flute) and taking a music theory test. The second day, the other candidates and I each conducted two of the premiere music groups in the Army – The U.S. Army Concert Band and The U.S. Army Chorus. Following that was your (not so) standard job interview, which consisted of me answering questions from six of the senior officers in the band field. It was a blast. I flew back to Boston that night and the next day was offered the job. I knew that if I was going to do something like this, I needed to do it while I was young – I was almost 26 at the time. Teaching would always be there but the Army had an age limit.
That August, I shipped off to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina (eight weeks). It was not fun. Next came Officer Candidate School (OCS) (14 weeks). Really not fun. But I will say that OCS helped make me a better leader and a stronger person because it made me go way outside my comfort zone. In hindsight, I would not trade that experience for a direct commission. (Although at the time I was cursing the band field for making me do it!) After OCS was the Officer Basic Course (OBC) at Fort Jackson. Yes, I was back at the site of my basic training just months later. I left a nobody and returned . . . a nobody . . . but a nobody that was being paid as a second lieutenant rather than a specialist! In fact, my second day on post I was crossing the street when I ran into my drill sergeant; it was a tender moment.
We train band officers differently now, but back then we went through the Adjutant General officer courses. The bands fall under the Adjutant General Corps (responsible for personnel support). My class consisted of human resource officers, public affairs officers, and me. We now send band officers to the Army School of Music for training, but that’s a story for another time. After OBC, I went to the aforementioned School of Music for a six-week Band Officer Course.
After months of training, I finally got to my first job – Executive Officer of the Advanced Individual Training (AIT) company at the School of Music. This is the company that was then and is now responsible for training new band Soldiers how to be, well, band Soldiers. AIT is the buffer between basic training and a Soldier’s first unit. After a year of getting my feet wet and getting a crash course in all things Army bands, I went up the road to my first band – The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Band at Fort Monroe, Virginia. I’ll write more about my experience there another time.
After two years with the TRADOC Band as its Executive Officer and Associate Conductor, I was promoted to captain and went to more Army schooling back at Fort Jackson and then at Fort Leavenworth (at the Command and General Staff College, not the prison). I spent the next four years at The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” where I was Director of their pop group, “Downrange” and The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets. Those four years were amazing. To work with such fantastic musicians and to perform for the leaders of our Nation and our military at strategic events was something I won’t soon forget! My last assignment was as Commander and Conductor of The Army Ground Forces Band at Fort McPherson, Georgia – a fantastic experience.
That brings us to the present, where I am stationed at the Army School of Music but am currently attending a three and a half month course at Fort Lee, Virginia – Intermediate Level Education or ILE. All majors have to take this to prepare to be field grade staff officers and commanders.
Nothing could have prepared me for this often rewarding, sometimes frustrating, always interesting job. I’ve performed for royalty and elementary school children, presidents and generals, Soldiers and the general public. I’m honored to have been a part of some very special and unique events and I honestly couldn’t think of a better job than performing for Soldiers, the men and women who lead them, and the people who support them.