July 9, 2009

29th Army Band wraps up summer concert series

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — While many Virginia Guard units are running around the woods and focusing on warrior-centric training for their two-week annual training, one unit was busy travelling around the commonwealth spreading joy the best way it knows how- through the gift of music.

  29th Army Band

1st Sgt. Lewis, acting commander of the 29th Army Band, and Sgt. 1st Class Richard Carr lead the band on to the field to perform the National Anthem June 27 at Richmond International raceway. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

During the pre-race ceremony for the Suntrust Indy Challenge at the Richmond International Raceway June 27, alongside a four-man color guard provided by the Virginia Army National Guard, 43 members of the Roanoke-based 29th Army Band performed the National Anthem before a large crowd of race fans as part of their two-week annual training.

The band’s summer concert series has served as its AT since 2003 and acts as a catalyst allowing the band members to stay proficient in their specific job skills while affording them the opportunity to interact with the citizens of the commonwealth, according to 1st Sgt. Fred G. Lewis, acting commander of the 29th Army Band.

“This series gives the public the chance to talk to a Soldier one-on-one after the performance,” said Lewis, a 31 year veteran of the band. “It also gives the Virginia National Guard a presence in a public setting that is not normally available.”

Before the race, Soldiers of the band were allowed to move freely about the pit area of the raceway, and some had the opportunity to interact with the drivers and their crews.

“It was exciting, especially getting to see all of the racers backstage as they were waiting to be introduced to the crowd, and then seeing them wave or give a thumbs up to us as they went back to their cars,” said Staff Sgt. Peter Shatz.

Starting on June 6 and running through July 4, the summer concert series proved beneficial to the state’s mission on multiple levels by providing visibility in the community, providing entertainment to Soldiers and civilians alike, and also acting as a recruiting tool, according to Warrant Officer Candidate Donald M. Carlson.

“Several Soldiers that have joined the 29th Army Band found us through this concert series,” said Carlson.

“It provides us an opportunity to tell our Army story and reach out to the public.  We are interacting with the communities where National Guard Soldiers are deployed and giving the community a chance to thank a Soldier,” Carlson said. “We get to be a positive face on the military.  We are recognizing outstanding young musicians and their music teachers and giving them an opportunity to perform with a professional military band.”

While most National Guard Soldiers are focusing on training for their next possible deployment during AT, the band is training towards support of those Soldiers and supporting the state mission every time they go out and perform, according to Sgt. Steven Landers, senior instrumentalist.

“So the summer concert series is like our deployment,” said Landers. “If we are able to entertain the troops and the state, we are having a successful year.”

  29th Army Band

Soldiers form the 29th Army Band tune up their trombones before performing before the crowd at Richmond International Raceway June 27. The Suntrust Indy Challenge performance was part of the band's two-week annual training. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Va Guard Public Affairs)

“Our AT period is very different than other guard units. To be in the band you have to already be trained to do the job of a musician before you join the guard. This allows us to spend less time training and more time performing our mission, which is to perform for military and civilian personnel,” said Staff Sgt. John Reynolds, a supply technician. “We do spend some time during our AT in rehearsal/training but the majority of our time is spent performing at concerts, parades, and military ceremonies.”

“I am very proud to be a member of the 29th Army Band,” said Reynolds. “Our mission of providing high-quality musical support to military and civilian units is a necessity if you wish to maintain the heritage of the Army as well as provide interaction with the public. It is the best job in the military.”

The band began in 1922 in Roanoke as part of the 116th Infantry Brigade Service Company, but was federalized in October 1943 as part of the 29th Infantry Division. Members of the band assisted the assault on Omaha Beach. Throughout World War II the band saw action in four European campaigns, according to their website.

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