Fort Benning, Ga. - "It's the best job in the Army," said CW4 Fred Catchings, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band, who will nevertheless retire his conductor's baton in December.

"I get to entertain people. With music, you can do so much to improve the morale of the Soldiers you perform for and also be a great ambassador for the Army to the civilian population. It's been a wonderful experience."

Catchings began his 21-year career of playing in Army bands at Fort Benning, his "station of choice." After Warrant Officer School and bandmaster training, he commanded bands at Fort Hood, Texas, Germany, and Fort Stewart, Ga., successively.

For his final assignment, he requested Fort Benning.

"I've come full circle, so it's time to retire," Catchings said. "I'll be in the area. (I) have made some key contacts on future employment, but I don't have anything definite lined up as of yet."

No matter what, playing music will still be a big part of his life, he said.

Catchings' love of music goes back to his childhood. He picked up his first instrument, the saxophone, when he was 10 years old. Since then, he's mastered the clarinet, oboe, flute, bassoon, euphonium and tuba. But his real passion is conducting.

"I guess you get to a certain point in your playing and you don't see yourself improving or getting any better," he said. "I think my real talent is not on individual instruments but bringing out the abilities of other players. When I'm standing up there, I have the power, but I transfer the power to the musicians, so that I'm weak. Then they have the power. And it's that back and forth power sharing that gives music its best artistic presentation."

After earning his master's degree in music, Catchings worked as a band director with public middle and high schools in Georgia and Florida. He joined the Army, he said, because he wanted to "expand" what he was doing professionally.

"Just the experience of playing in front of worldwide audiences is what's so great about the Army," said Catchings, who served seven years enlisted as a woodwind specialist and 14 as an Army band commander.

"I've represented the United States in Germany, Korea, Qatar, Kuwait, Kosova, Macedonia and Bulgaria - all these wonderful audiences that love American music, and it's been tremendous."

His greatest honor, he said, was bringing his Soldiers home safely from two tours in Iraq. Both times his unit filled dual roles of security and morale support.

"I'm going to miss working with him," said SSG Michael Berryman, who served with Catchings in 2000 and 2001 in Germany and later at Fort Stewart, where they deployed to Iraq in 2003.
Berryman, who plays trombone for the MCOE Band, said they have worked closely together.

"He's really approachable, laid back, and personable," Berryman said.

"I'm sure, through the rest of my time before I retire, I'll probably call Chief (to say) 'Hey, I'm having issues with this,' or just talk about how he's doing, what he's doing ... just keep in touch."
SSG Darryl Washington, who directed the MCOE Jazz Ensemble during the Sunday concert at Riverside, said he hates to see Catchings retire.

"He's keeps us in sync ... makes people do what they don't think they can do," Washington said. "You get a good conductor, the band sounds better; you get a great conductor the band sounds that much better. He is a great commander, a great conductor."

Catchings said he chose to have the jazz ensemble play Sunday because he wanted to have Washington lead in honor of the Year of the NCO.

The MCOE Band has six smaller groups, like the jazz ensemble, with individual directors, and each of those Soldiers are competent leaders, Catchings said.

Catchings estimates nearly 150 Soldiers have been under his leadership in the band over the past three and a half years. He hopes to keep in touch with many of them, he said.

"The people you work with everyday, they're like family," he said.

The concert Sunday was Catchings' last major concert. The next big band event, the free annual holiday concert at 2 and 4 p.m. Dec. 6 at the RiverCenter, will be led by CW4 William Brazier. Brazier, who will take the baton from Catchings after he retires, comes from the 2nd Infantry Division, in Korea. He arrived at Fort Benning Thursday.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16