Dec. 15, 2011

29th Band conducts holiday concerts

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen 
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

STAUNTON, Va. — The 29th Division Band kicked off its annual Holiday Concert Series at the Memorial Baptist Church in Staunton Dec. 8 and kept the holiday spirit alive as it travelled to two more locations to perform the show over the next two days. The Soldiers of the band, along with guest vocalists, performed the shows to express the Guard's appreciation to the communities and families for their support of the National Guard and their units.


Warrant Officer Donald Carlson conducts the Covington-based 29th Division Band in Staunton Dec. 8 during the opening show of the Holiday Concert Series. The band conducted an entire repertoire of Christmas hits and even one Halloween song during the festive event. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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In addition to the Staunton show, the group performed at First United Methodist Church in Martinsville Dec. 9 and at Covington High School Dec. 10 bringing to fruition the several months of preparation. By September, the band began rehearsing with guest solo singers Capt. Clay Blevins and his wife Cindy Blevins, Missy Carter and Chelsey Helms.

“Without them it would be a challenge to put on all our vocal numbers,” said Warrant Officer Donald Carlson, 29th Division Band commander. “We do have some vocalists in our band, but they really bring an extra special thing to it and it’s nice because it’s part of the Guard family.”

“It’s always just so much fun with them because they are all so talented. They just make us feel like we are part of the band too. So we don’t have a rank, but they treat us like we’ve been here the whole time,” said Helms. “I thoroughly enjoy every minute of being here; I enjoy the people, I enjoy the band I enjoy meeting all of these people. It’s just fun everywhere we go. It always gets better ever year."

In attendance at the Staunton concert was Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, who travelled from his office in Sandston to thank the Virginia citizens who came out to support the show and see the band perform the opening show in the series.

“I’ve been to concerts and special events all across Virginia in the last 16 months I have been the adjutant general and this band is amazing, and we hope you enjoy them,” Long said. “Thanks to all of you here in the band for everything that you do.”

The Holiday Concert Series serves as a way for the Adjutant General and the Virginia National Guard to say thank you for all the Guardsmen and women that serve and to thank the communities that support them.


The Adjutant General of Virginia, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long Jr., presents 1st Sgt. Fred Lewis the Virginia Legion of Merit Dec. 8 in Staunton for his outstanding service to the Virginia National Guard throughout his career. Lewis will retire from the National Guard at the end of December. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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“Soldiers doing their job doesn’t necessarily always directly impact the citizens, so we have a chance to just go out there and say, ‘Hey thank you, here’s a little something we can do for you and thank you for all your support,’” Carlson said.  

During the concert, the commander and the Adjutant General took a moment to recognize 1st Sgt. Fred Lewis on his upcoming retirement and to award him the Virginia Legion of Merit for his outstanding contributions to the Virginia National Guard over the past 33 years.

“He has been in the military for 36 years. He was active duty and then he came to the National Guard. He is the man I blame for all of the success of this group,” said Carlson. “He has taken this group from a very small unit of about 16 members who were not very disciplined and not very skilled musicians. Through the years, through recruiting and working with the band he has made what you hear tonight.”

“I joined this band in Nov. 1978. We’ve gone through a lot of changes. When I joined the band, I think I made number 13,” said Lewis. “We were down way under strength and it’s been a long, long climb to get up to full strength. We finally achieved full strength in 2005. Not everybody is qualified to be in the unit; we have to have people who are already qualified before they can be admitted.”

“He so deserves that award. He has given his life to the Guard and this band in particular. I have to say I am inspired by him and I hope that I continue and keep that torch going and just go further and further with the band just standing on the shoulders of that giant,” Carlson said.

Lewis started his career as a euphonium player. But also served as a bus driver, an instrument repairman and through the most part, he has been a high school band director as his full-time job, but he has retired from that position as well.

“It’s a bittersweet thing to be leaving. I’m getting to the point where the PT (physical training) test is no fun,” Lewis noted jokingly. “I guess it’s time to turn over the reins to someone else.

“The only advice I can give [the band] is to do their best every time, make it a professional job every single time it doesn’t matter how many people are in the audience; we’ve had audiences as small as one person, but that one person deserves the same effort as we would give a packed house.”

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