Saturday, August 28, 2010

Three Cheers For Military Bands!

As many, many, commentators have pointed out, the U.S. military has more musicians than the U.S. State Department has Foreign Service Officers. Everybody knows that. Even the Secretary of Defense comments about that. And everybody finds that fact amusing and ironic.

Now, of course the Foreign Service needs more people. The staffing numbers speak for themselves.

But is it really so odd that the military should have so many musicians? I think not. Two recent bits of news have me reflecting on the value of military music.

First, Unredacted linked to the U.S. Army's Field Manual on Army Bands. That document provides historical context for military music, like how fifes and drums were vital for communicating on the battlefield from the ancient world up to the Napoleonic Age. More importantly, it defines the military music mission in terms that an FSO should appreciate.

For example:

United States Army bands provide music throughout the entire spectrum of operations to instill in our forces the will to fight and win, foster the support of our citizens, and promote America’s interests at home and abroad.


Bands provide music for ceremonial and morale support within full spectrum operations to sustain warriors and to inspire leaders. Deployed bands are capable of reinforcing positive relations with host-nation, multinational, and joint forces. Army bands communicate through the broadcast and print media to foster support of American citizens, both while deployed and at home. Live performances in parades, concerts, and other public appearances represent the Army and our Nation while promoting national interests. Bands support the recruiting mission, provide comfort to recovering Soldiers, and contribute to a positive climate for Army families. Army bands of the 21st century are organized, trained, and equipped to conduct concurrent operations in supporting multiple objectives with targeted musical styles.

-- snip --


1-8. FM 3-0 stresses the importance of success in ―shaping the civil situation. Inherently capable of providing a climate for international relations, bands serve as representatives of senior commanders in multinational operations or to the host-nation population. Their ability to project receptiveness supports commanders in dialog with civic leaders. Cultural exchange, including the artistic and the social elements, benefit the United States and its interests. Participation in civic activities encourages goodwill at the core level of international relations.


1-9. When combined with FM 3-61.1, Army bands have a direct impact on mission success in shaping perceptions, attitudes, and opinions. Capable of producing programs for television, radio, and live performance, bands reach a diversified public with a positive message. While in the community, band members are often in face-to-face contact with the citizens, thus bands work to represent the Army values off the installation.

The FM includes two success stories that involve international relations:

U.S.-Russian Relations - In 1996, the 1st Armored Division Band deployed from Bad Kreuznach, Germany, in support of Task Force Eagle in Tuzla, Bosnia. The band received a tasking to send the rock band, "Mo Better Blues," to play specifically for a Russian unit stationed at Camp Uglijevik in the dead of winter over snow covered mountain roads ... The U.S. liaison officer met the band upon arrival and showed the members to the performance venue: the mess hall. The liaison had been there for a month, but had had very little progress in ―breaking the ice with Russian cooperation ... The Russians jammed about 200 soldiers into the small mess hall. Most were conscripts and did not look particularly happy to be there. The band, led by Staff Sergeant Alvin "Mo" Morris, played a list of classic rock tunes as well as some country music, and the Russians enthusiastically responded with demands for multiple encores. The U.S. liaison officer stated that the band had done more for U.S.-Russian relations in 90 minutes than he had been able to do in 30 days.

The Shanghai International Wind Band Festival - In April of 2008, the 8th U.S. Army Band was invited by China to participate in the Shanghai International Wind Band Festival. The first American military band and the first American military unit in recent history to enter the country, they performed over 5 days for live audiences of over 500,000 and televised audiences in the millions. As U.S. ambassadors, they won the prodigious cheers and applause of the Chinese audiences as they performed American music of Elvis Presley and John Williams as well as traditional marches in a concert, a parade, and a nightly military tattoo. Association between the two countries’ bands was initially reserved and withdrawn, uncertain of how to conduct mutual foreign relations. However, a positive climate was built by the third day of living and eating together when conspicuous small, impromptu Chinese and American music groups began harmonizing.

With all that expeditionary full-spectrum supporting, shaping of perceptions, cultural exchange, and fostering of relations going on, I'm surprised the military isn't seeking even more musicians. Maybe Congress should be concerned that we have allowed a Military Music Gap to grow between us and our national adversaries?

The other bit of military music news that I have in mind is the death just last week of Bill Millin, the British Army bagpiper who played traditional Scottish quick marches as his brigade waded ashore on D-Day. It's a bit striking to realize that only one generation ago British troops on the battlefield were preceded by a piper who was wearing a Cameron tartan kilt and was armed with only a Skean Dhu, the Highlander's last resort knife.

Below is a photo of Millin stepping out of the landing craft, the pipes just barely visible over his left shoulder.

From the New York Times article on Millin's death:

The young piper was approached shortly before the landings by the brigade’s commanding officer, Brig. Simon Fraser, who as the 15th Lord Lovat was the hereditary chief of the Clan Fraser and one of Scotland’s most celebrated aristocrats. Against orders from World War I that forbade playing bagpipes on the battlefield because of the high risk of attracting enemy fire, Lord Lovat, then 32, asked Private Millin to play on the beachhead to raise morale.

When Private Millin demurred, citing the regulations, he recalled later, Lord Lovat replied: “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.”

After wading ashore in waist-high water that he said caused his kilt to float, Private Millin reached the beach, then marched up and down, unarmed, playing the tunes Lord Lovat had requested, including "Highland Laddie" and “Road to the Isles.”

With German troops raking the beach with artillery and machine-gun fire, the young piper played on as his fellow soldiers advanced through smoke and flame on the German positions, or fell on the beach. The scene provided an emotional high point in [the movie] “The Longest Day.”

So there you go. Military musicians have a long and storied history of supporting troops, fostering relations, and carrying out our national missions. So does the Foreign Service.

I say the two should join sides and lobby Congress for doubling both forces. If Congress would cut funding for just one new program like the FX-Boondoggle SuperAdvanced ÜberTactical 15thGeneration AirSuperiority fighter plane, we could have twice the diplomats and musicians, and would still have unchallenged air superiority over any other nation on earth. Who other than Boeing and Lockheed Martin could object to that?


Linda said...

Here, Here!!! As the wife of an Army Bandmaster (former Army musician, too, I might add), I was VERY angry when I read that Post article.

Army bands have a very clear mission, and their support of the military AND the local community is unsurpassed!

Military bands have long been a tradition, but they've been used for a LOT in the storied history of the military. Drums, fifes and bugles were used in battle, even in the Civil War. Though we no longer use them in the same way, Army musicians serve a dual purpose. Not only do they entertain/boost morale, but they ARE indeed soldiers who do not sit around all day waiting for a call to play. Military bands deploy with their respective headquarters...they provide military support, go on patrols and do all the stuff that other deployed soldiers do. They're not TRAINED to be gunners and artillery personnel, but they know how to use a gun and how to protect their FOB/COB.

TSB said...

Thanks very much for your comment! As a veteran, I was generally familiar with military music, but reading that FM put it into a whole new focus.

I was amazed to see how similar the strategic purpose of military bands is to that of the Foreign Service. That makes the old 'we-have-more-musicians-than-diplomats' complaint very ironic; I say we need more of both.

Anonymous said...

I am a retired US Army Bandmaster and was directed to your posting by one of my former sergeants in the band field.

Curiously enough, my last posting before retirement was as Director, Training and Doctrine for all US Army Bands with responsibility for developing the Army Bands Field Manual (FM 220-90) that was cited in the post.

There were two concepts not mentioned in your post that are signal to the bands' mission...that of being a "non-threatening show of force" to win over the hearts and minds and that of being a "force multiplier" for the battlefield.

Simply put, the employment of a band in the hearts and minds arena...both domestically and on foreign an extremely efficient and effective means to an end...whether it's as a show of patriotism at home or as a show of friendship abroad.

Likewise, using 40 or so musicians to "pump up" the troops and give them something positive in the way of a show is, again, a much more effective and efficient use of the 40 or so soldiers than simply giving them weapons...the returns on this investment are geometrically, not arithmetically, calculated.

Thanks for the posting...

TSB said...


Thanks for your comment. It's really excellent to get a reply from the person responsible for the Army Bands Field Manual!

I'm getting a new appreciation for the role of military music, and I hope others in my agency will, as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great post! We have started a Facebook page to serve as a rallying point for all those that love and have been touched by military music. Find the link here: Show Support for American Military Music Programs. We have linked to your post, I hope you don't mind. Please spread the word about the Facebook page. The more people that "like" it, the more we can show the opponents of the programs how important our military musicians are to our country!

joseph said...

i was waiting for this type of article both informative and entertaining. keep on blogging. great job!