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"America Owes Us A Band"

- A response by Gene F. Barfield (@genefbarfield)

· Military Bands

Throughout 2016, I posted a few articles and personally authored essays concerning recent congressional and media scrutiny of U.S. military bands. Of particular note, an amendment by Rep. Martha McSally passed the House of Representatives prohibiting all military bands from performing non-ceremonial events such as parades, community concerts and national anthems, or even our national holiday celebrations. As of today (Oct 1, 2016), it appears that amendment may ultimately fail. However, it is just another sign of the ongoing misunderstanding or unfortunate ignorance concerning the unique role that the arts and culture can play within our societal relationships and institutions. To this very point, I was struck by a poignant response by Mr. Gene F. Barfield to my essay, Should Congress Pick Low Hanging Fruit or Lower the Tree? I offer his perspective below and believe it not only speaks for generations of Americans in towns big and small across this land, but more importantly it speaks for the generations of Americans yet to be born who deserve more than what we are promising.

I thank Mr. Barfield for his eloquent response to this issue and provide it below:

"The only military presence in our small, out-of-the-way town in recent times has been: 1. The visible presence of our veterans, and our neighbors in the National Guard; 2. The happy return of active duty service men and women on leave; 3. The homecoming of those whose active service just ended; 4. The sad return of a native son killed overseas in service to our nation; and 5. The recent performance of the United States Army Field Band. Our town is like so many others in the first four respects. We lucked out tremendously on the fifth. No events in recent times here have produced the outpouring of our neighbors, physically and in sentiment, as the arrival home of our neighbor in a flag-draped coffin, and the concert of the Army Field Band.

Delete the Band, and the only event that swept up the entire town all at once is terribly sad.

It isn't just that the kinds of music our military bands typically perform is rarely heard in places like our town. We're never going to play host to the New York Philharmonic, or an audition for America's Got Talent. We're just too small. If every one of us attended a major concert there still won't be enough of us to fill a major venue. But we're America too.

Your theme abut the trees Congress is fussing with really resonates around places like here. We grow things in rural America, so we know about trees. I can see three orchards from my home. We know that to get the best crop you have to prune the trees. We also know that you have to be smart about it, know what you're doing when you start lopping off branches. Otherwise you might kill the tree.

When the Army Field Band came, the operation behind the concert was nearly as exciting as the concert itself. A group of trained people with a plan swept into town and set up the whole shebang overnight. The night of the concert, they knocked everything down, loaded everything up and went to the next small town on their tour. Talk about military precision and discipline! And the concert! It was The Best!

There's one thing every traveling military band seems to do now. They all play that medley of the nation's Service songs. They ask vets from each of the different Services to stand and be recognized when their Service song rolls around. All the songs together, each of the vets and their particular Service recognized individually. Sounds pretty American, doesn't it?

If Congress kills off the military bands, how are we supposed to stay connected with the rest of the country? I'm not talking about roads. I'm not talking about coast-to-coast TV. I'm not talking about social media. I'm talking about in our hearts, in our gut. We see the President on TV, we see the Senators and Congressmen. But they're not here.

We're so small out here that we're surprised each time we hear something that tells us our Congressman or our Senators know the name of our town. We're not like Los Angeles or Seattle. We can't get a thousand people together for something because we don't have a thousand people. Is it any wonder, then, when a band like the Army Field Band comes through, pretty much the entire town turns out to greet them. I've never seen my neighbors get so noisy as we all did, at least a half dozen times during their performance. How often does a town like ours get to hear and see a performance by a world-class musician like there were a couple dozen of when that Band came?

I'll give you the answer to that question. Once in a blue moon. Only when a military band comes to town.

We send our daughters and sons off to serve the nation just like every other town does. We're proud of that. We don't ask anything in repayment. We're just doing our duty, like any good Americans will.

But America owes us a band.

We know we'll only get to hear one every few years. We can't imagine, no matter how much it excites us to think about it, that we'll ever rate a visit from the President's Own, the U.S. Marine Band. That's why there needs to be enough bands to go around.

We're not stupid; we know bands cost money. I'm 63 years old and I've never met a single soul who ever complained about the cost to us - it's our money that pays for them, isn't it? Rural people know how to count our money.

America owes it's small towns a visit now and then. There isn't any reason at all why the President or a general or admiral might drive through one day. We're not on the way to anyplace except here. But we're America just like Washington, or Albuquerque or Atlanta is.

America owes us a band. That's really not that much to ask for, is it?"

posted by Gene F. Barfield

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