Former Marine Bandsman Claims Special Place in History
August 25, 2011
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., Aug. 14, 2011 -- When the 319th Army Band performed during the culminating event of the 99th Regional Support Command's "Operation Checkerboard," few in the audience were aware that one of the bandsmen was a part of history.
Spc. Hashim Sharrieff, bass player for the 319th, was the first Muslim American of African descent to ever play for a Marine or Navy band, according to his own research.
Sharrieff's path to distinction began during his time in the Marine Corps, where he learned about people such as Frederick C. Branch, the first African-American Marine officer; the "Triple Nickels" 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the first African-American parachute infantry unit; and the Women AirForce Service Pilots (WASP), the first female federal aviators who were trained during World War II.
All these "firsts" led Sharrieff to research his own unique circumstance as an African-American Marine bandsman who was also Muslim.
"One day it occurred to me, and I said, 'Let's Google this,'" he explained, "and nobody else's name popped up."
Sharrieff joined the Marine Corps in 1995 and spent three years as a bandsman at the Marine base in Twentynine Palms, Calif. He then joined the Navy, where he served until 2003 with the Atlantic Fleet band. After several years' break from the military, Sharrieff decided to return to service.
"I really missed serving," explained the 39-year-old Queens, N.Y., native. "The Army gave me the most flexibility, the most recognition for my rank, and showed me the best options."
After completing Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Okla., this summer, Sharrieff began serving with the 319th Army Band, which is stationed at Fort Totten near the home he shares with his wife and two daughters.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, Sharrieff said he encountered some negativity in civilian life, but serving in the military as both an African American and a Muslim has been a positive experience.
"On the civilian side, you do notice a few things, but it's more, 'We don't care, you're our neighbor, you're a former Marine, you've served honorably,'" he explained.
"In the military, we don't have the option to not get a mission accomplished -- that's the big difference," continued Sharrieff, whose father served in the Air Force. "When we have to get bullets down range or anything else that needs to be done, we work together. We have to accomplish the mission as a team, and that ethos is non-negotiable."
"That's one of the reasons our military is premier," he added.
As Sharrieff continues to serve his country, his family and his religion, he looks ahead to a time when all Americans will live in a truly unbiased society.
"As long as we're talking with one another, I think we'll have a great dialogue for the future," Sharrieff said. "This country's got something that no others have, and hopefully it will keep going in that direction and finish the dialogue that the Constitution started, God willing -- or as we say, 'Inshallah'.
"Operation Checkerboard" is a five-day training exercise held here from Aug. 10-14, consisting of nearly 200 Soldiers from the 99th RSC Headquarters and Headquarters Company; the 78th Army Band from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst; the 94th Army Band from East Windsor, Conn.; the 198th Army Band from Rochester, N.Y.; the 319th Army Band from Fort Totten, N.Y.; and the 380th Army Band from Richmond, Va.
The 99th RSC acts as a "virtual installation" that provides world-class Base Operations support to over 50,000 Army Reserve Soldiers, 400 units and 300 facilities for the entire Northeast Region from Maine to Virginia for the Army Reserve in order to give our Warrior-Citizens and their Families the finest care, support, services and training.
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