Rebuilding Community Relations One Band at a Time
May 11, 2009
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y., -- It may be hard to measure the impact the 42-Soldier Army Materiel Command Band had in the New York Capital District area as they performed two concerts on 7 and 8 May, but many might say the effect was powerful.
Nine months ago, when the U.S. Army Watervliet Arsenal's leadership began to reenergize its community relations program, it turned to its higher headquarters, the Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., for help. And, boy did AMC deliver, said John Snyder, public affairs officer for the Arsenal.
"With a new commander on board, we wanted to jumpstart our community relations program but do so by initially tapping into events on the calendar that naturally create an interest in the public's mind about its military, such as Veterans' Day and Memorial Day," said Snyder.
Last November, the Arsenal conducted the Capital District's first Community Covenant Signing Ceremony with four mayors who represented the major cities that border the Arsenal. For May, the Arsenal coordinated for the AMC Band to perform at a concert for the City of Watervliet, as well as be the kickoff entertainment for the Albany-area Tulip Festival that normally is attended by more than 100,000 people during its three-day run, added Snyder.
What most people don't see is what goes on behind the scenes prior to the band's performance. And this may have just as large of an impact on a community relations program as does the concert.
For a 5:30 p.m. concert, the AMC Band rolled into the Watervliet High School at 11 a.m. The City of Watervliet has a population of about 10,000 and so, seeing a large bus, equipment truck, and several government vehicles flow through the narrow streets and into the high school parking lot brought a lot of folks out of their homes, businesses, and classrooms to see what was happening in their town.
What the City of Watervliet saw was leadership, the type of leadership that one would think of as they thought of the Army. Sergeants taking charge by providing safety briefs, explaining the concept of the operation, and barking orders to the band members.
They saw precision, as the 42 Soldiers seamlessly flowed from downloading the equipment truck to building a stage that had a professional Army look to it.
They saw a technically proficient team, who in every spare moment of time prior to the concert shared their Soldiers' stories, as well as their instrument expertise with the more than 30 high school music students who were currently in class.
Adrian Blackman, a junior at the Watervliet High School, said he was awestruck.
"I didn't know what to expect from the Army, but when I heard the Army musicians for the first time in the band room I was left speechless. They were that good," said Blackman.
Blackman went on to say he really liked how the Soldiers sat down next to the students and coached them.
Watervliet High School Band Director Joe Bonville added to Blackman's comments by saying that he was very impressed with the band members' technical expertise, as well as with how the Soldiers took charge and transformed a 1930s-era auditorium into a showcase theater in a matter of hours.
Not to put pressure on the band, but their Friday night performance in front of more than 1,000 people was critical to getting the Tulip Festival off on the right foot. As the leadoff entertainment, all eyes were on the band and they did not disappoint.
With the same precision and skill as the band exhibited the day before in the City of Watervliet, the band rolled into Albany's Washington Park and methodically set up the stage.
Tommy Nicchi, City of Albany events coordinator who was the primary point of contact for the band's performance, said prior to the concert, "Working with the Army has been great. I never had to worry about the band, they were low maintenance, organized, and always professional."
During sound checks, the band had two Soldiers come up to center stage to sing a Bon Jovi song. As soon as they began, about 300 people who were within listening distance immediately stopped what they were doing and faced toward the band. It was as if time stood still for a brief moment as hundreds of observers did not move until the end of the song.
The AMC Band kicked off the Tulip Festival's entertainment with traditional patriotic-type music, then moved into a brass quintet performance, followed by their rock band.
Hard to measure the effect the band had on this Friday evening, but when people danced in front of the stage, when old veterans' stood and saluted the band, and when a young child steps up in front of the stage to direct the band as if he was the director, the effect must have been powerful.
City of Watervliet Mayor Mike Manning and City of Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings, opened both performances for their respective cities. Their words were similar as they both had praise for the Soldiers, praise for our Army, and their community's thanks to the Army Materiel Command Band for their support to their cities.
Although the Watervliet Arsenal may be in the early stages of rebuilding its community relations program, the AMC Band has given the Arsenal a solid foundation from which to build from.
We may never know the true effect of this community relations effort, but it must have been powerful.