Commentary: We all have a mission
September 26, 2009
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Less than a week ago, I left behind the desert and the construction projects at Fort Bliss and travelled with my unit, the 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, to support the Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division during Operation Unified Endeavor, a mission readiness exercise, being held at the Grafenwoehr Training Area.
On the bus ride from the Nuremberg airport to Grafenwoehr, the beautiful green landscape outside the window was a stark contrast to the scrub brush mountains of El Paso. Tired from the long flight, I was still captivated by the architecture of the houses and the names of the German towns we passed.
But once we arrived and put on the uniform, I found that the mission had not changed. Our mission, my mission, is to tell the Soldier's story.
Operation Unified Endeavor is designed to prepare the 1st AD for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. It is the largest scale exercise that I've participated in during my short Army career. The tempo is faster, the product output is greater and the hours worked are longer.
During Operation Unified Endeavor I hit my one-year anniversary in the Army on Sept. 24, 2009. I celebrated by working a 12-hour shift. Tired, still adjusting to the time change, I wandered back to the barracks to change uniforms for physical training with another Soldier from my unit. At my weariest moment, when the task of unlacing my boot strings seemed daunting, I heard the faintest musical notes through an open window.
Using a grass field like a concert hall, a brass quintet from the 1st AD band was playing in an open area between the three dining facilities. On the ground next to the empty instrument cases and music stands, within reach of the musicians, were weapons. Gathered around the performers, a group of Soldiers stood and listened.
I can't speculate about the effect the music had on the other Soldiers that night but within minutes I felt my mood begin to improve and the burden of the day begin to lighten. It was easy to get lost in the familiarity of the songs they played, songs that I knew as American before I raised my hand and became a Soldier.
After the performance I spoke with Staff Sgt. Stefan Muldez, a trumpet player with the 1st AD band. "I love being a musician and I love being in this unit," he said. "We bring music to everybody, whether it is here in garrison or in a deployed environment."
While the priority of the band is to enrich the lives around them through entertainment, the sacrifices made by these Soldiers are as real and valid as any infantryman.
Muldez, who will deploy for the fourth time, told me that his young children struggled to understand his frequent deployments. "They know that daddy gets to play the trumpet for Soldiers and that means he has to go away."
Loyalty to your job and unit can sometimes limit understanding of how other Soldiers operate in their environments. When I spoke with 1st Sgt. Adam Hefflefinger, the 1st AD band first sergeant, he acknowledged the misconceptions about Army band Soldiers.
"There are those who think we sit around and play music all day," said Hefflefinger. "But even in the Army band we are still required to complete our Army warrior tasks, qualify on our rifle and maintain our Soldier skills."
But debunking misconceptions isn't the priority for Hefflefinger.
During a previous deployment to Iraq, he travelled with the 1st AD rock band. That section of the band performed in excess of 250 performances alone. After about every performance, he said, Soldiers were coming up to him to thank him for coming out to their forward operating base and bringing a piece of home back to them.
It occurred to me that night, in a collection of moments that will define my trip to Grafenwoehr, the mission of the 1st AD band is not so different from my own. I speak for Soldiers and the band speaks to Soldiers.