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U.S. HOUSE New National March: "The Stars and Stripes ForNever"

by Daniel W. Boothe

· Military Bands,Congress

Pull up your chair, folks! Grab your flags for wavin' and your sparklers for shakin'! Our July 4th Independence Day Concert will now begin!

If you were expecting The Stars and Stripes Forever, our national march played by a U.S. military band, perhaps you didn't get the MEMO? Congress is playing a different tune:

As reported here, Rep. Martha McSally has sponsored an amendment here to H.R. 5293 banning the use of U.S. military music for "social" performances to include international partnership events, all parades, and even national holiday celebrations. The reason for these drastic measures is quite simple. According to the U.S. House of Representatives, we simply cannot afford military band music, not even for the 4th of July! By voice vote, this amendment was accepted.

Also noteworthy was an amendment by Rep. Ted Poe to reduce the amount of U.S. military aid to Pakistan by 200 million dollars. This 200 million dollar reduction could make it more difficult for the Pakistan military bands or their Army School of Music to purchase instruments or to travel to an international tattoo as they did here. Fortunately for the Pakistan military and its bands, this amendment was rejected. So while we can't afford to hear our own national march by a military band on July 4th, thanks to the unfettered 900 million dollar generosity from the U.S. taxpayers, we apparently can afford to help the Pakistan military bands play on their holidays. And it's not just Pakistan bands that benefit. According to this report, it ties into 5.9 billion dollars that we can afford to offer annually in foreign military aid, 75% of which goes to Israel and Egypt. Both of these countries are very strategic partners for the U.S. and both have robust military band programs. Our military aid must certainly help them finance their military music to even include outreach performances.

Rep. McSally (Air Force Col retired) didn't seem to mind the costs of the holiday parties she attended while on active-duty but she did mind the entertainment by U.S. military bands. And unlike the food and decorations purchased for those parties, the musicians were not spending extra budget dollars to be there. They already had their instruments and were likely already co-located on the base. So when military bands aren't performing at a ceremony or funeral, they optimize their time by fitting in outreach events with the local base and community. With less than one-half of 1% of American citizens even serving in the U.S. military, these outreach opportunities are often the only moments to create positive and impactful civilian-to-military interactions.

While abroad, these community engagements play a key role within international military diplomacy. The bands are often part of a nuanced and highly effective strategy to build relationships that help create favorable military-political conditions for U.S. policies and objectives. This helps us posture and execute our kinetic assets. Relationships do matter. And certainly not unlike our day-to-day interactions (ie. church, first dates, or parties), music and cultural exchange play a natural role, making a significant difference in the climate for those relationships.

Finally, bands also provide entertainment for troops who are deployed to hostile areas. While some troops may mirror Rep. McSally's critique, many American and Allied troops have actually expressed appreciation for these performances as seen here and here. Will Rep. McSally and others offer to represent the opinions of these soldiers?

Actually, this amendment prevents all of this from occurring. Since it wouldn't affect the number of musicians but just reduce the number of performances, it would cause salaried hours to be filled with idle time in between ceremonies and funerals. Much like the ~22% of excess infrastructure costing the DoD billions annually, this would be a complete waste for nothing more than low hanging fruit and political optics. As it would eliminate support for military personnel and families through zero support for community events, schools, and military hospitals, it would fail to contribute to the wellness and encouragement essential within the challenges of a military lifestyle. This violates the #1 goal of taking care of our own people. As it would eliminate military music diplomatic missions, it would fail in core competencies of soft-power, smart-power, international military diplomacy, Whole of Government approaches, and other strategies as recommended in our Quadrennial Defense Review. This amendment causes gaps in our strategic defense posture while completely failing to achieve anything of value. However, it does provide useful political theater to distract from the real problems and the real solutions we face.

That sounds pretty serious...because it is. Based on our desired standards for strength, agility, and multiplicity, those are not good statistics considering ISIL and the growing capabilities of potential conventional global adversaries. Unfortunately with problems that large, the 0.075% of the DoD budget for military bands cannot yield enough of a monetary difference for change. However, there is one choice that would yield enough of a savings to significantly address all of Rep. McSally's concerns and more. It is called the Defense Base Closure and Realignment process, otherwise known as BRAC. This solution would be a magic pill which is why the Pentagon has requested it from Congress five times consecutively over the last ten years.

Current estimates show that the Department of Defense is throwing away as much as 2 billion dollars every single year to maintain approximately 22% of excess infrastructure, some that's left over from WWII according to Assistant Secretary of the Army Katherine Hammack. In other words, as the U.S. military has drawn down in size (much of it appropriately), we have not drawn down our bases, our utility costs, and our rent.

  • In light of this awareness and concern for military funeral support, do any of the proposed amendments increase manning to address the reports of military funeral musician shortages?
  • Is it disingenuous to stipulate that taxpayer funds may not be used for military bands to participate in parades but that it's perfectly acceptable for House members to do so? Does that contribute to legislative core competencies? 

In addition to an amendment giving 900 million dollars to Pakistan for military aid, this bill did contain an amendment to fund a BRAC study. This would have examined what base specific closures might occur to realize the billions in annual savings. However, once again the U.S. House voted it down. Instead, they voted for a military band audit by both the Secretary of Defense and the Government Accountability Office for a top-down review of every instrument, building, and piece of sheet music comprising 0.075% of the DoD budget. Does this convince you that our elected representatives are actually serious about our budget and defense challenges?

CONCLUSION

  • The House voted to ban U.S. military bands from non-ceremonial events to include international diplomacy, civic concerts, and even parades celebrating national holidays. Since most of those events are local, there is little to no savings by this measure but a great expense to those affected. 
  • The House refused to lower a "military aid" package to Pakistan, granting them 900 million taxpayer dollars which helps offset costs of their existing military bands that do play in civic concerts and parades. 
  • The House once again refused to support a BRAC requested by DoD which would save billions of dollars every year in ~22% of wasted infrastructure. Those billions could pay for major shortages in parts, manning, or training. 
  • Each House of Representative member, in addition to having their 18 full-time staff members and 4 part-time staffers, may use unlimited taxpayer funds to attend parades according to their congressional handbook. This bill would ban military bands from going to those parades but not congressional members. 
  • So, must Congress eliminate or reduce military band spending to address our defense budget challenges? Don't be fooled: 

They are playing us like a fiddle.

If this bothers you, as it does me, I recommend you write to your elected representatives now and tell them to change their tune. It's The Stars and Stripes Forever, not ForNever.

What can you do to #savemilitarymusic ?

Disclaimer: The content of this blog reflects the personal experiences and opinions of its author and is not endorsed by the United States Air Force or any other United States Government agency. Reference herein to any specific person, business, non-profit organization, commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Air Force or the United States Government.

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