SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Excitement filled the air as the country's top high school musicians and their Soldier Mentors filled the football field. Each section in the mass of people, separated by their instruments, continued to warm-up before the band master raised his arms to conduct the first rehearsal.
"One, two. One, two, three four," said the lead director, as rehearsal began.
The bright, bold fanfare reminded one young sergeant of his days as an All-American trumpeter.
"Do you hear that?" asked Sgt. Elliot Mee, a bandsman in the 392nd Army Band, Fort Lee, Virginia. "Those are the best of the best musicians in U.S. high schools."
Elliot Mee, a trumpeter and All-American Bowl Band alumnus, volunteered to return to San Antonio to serve as a mentor with the music recruiter liaisons to high school musicians for the January 2018 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
"I don't relate to them as well as he can," said Master Sgt. David Newcomb, the senior Army music recruiting liaison, and native of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. "He was sitting right where they are sitting, and trained for what they are training for. His experience with Army music and the All-American Bowl makes him a valuable asset to our mission."
As an Army bandsman and former All-American, Mee bridges the gap between the high school students and their Soldier Mentors. The students reacted with awe and amazement when he shared his personal story as an Army musician.
"What we do as musicians... you really have to understand your impact on the audience," he said. At times, his music while in the Army was the closest some of the onlookers had been to the military. "That's what you need to remember. That's the impact you can make as musicians."
His focus during Bowl Week is to showcase how these young musicians can employ their talent and serve their country.
"I am here with the Army recruiting music liaison to tell the students what music opportunities they could have in the Army, and to share my personal story in joining," he said.
After being selected as an All-American bandsman for the bowl in 2010, Mee, a Williamsburg, Virginia native, realized the number of different jobs available to recruits, from jobs in the tech field to roles in Army bands. With the knowledge gained from his experience, and with the help of his recruiters, Mee was able to audition for the Army band and enlist as a bandsman four years later in 2014. He shares his story to inspire future Soldiers.
"I had no idea the Army did other things back then," he said. "Playing at the bowl showed me that the Army didn't just have combat jobs, but they also had combat support jobs like the band."
Mee shared some of his experiences and gave different tips on marching during the band's first practice together.
"I didn't plan on making music a career," he said. "It kind of just found me, and I'm very appreciative of that."
Being a part of the All-American Bowl led to opportunities to participate in other music ensembles for Mee, including a an opportunity to try-out and participate in high-tier musical ensembles.
"The Bowl opened the doors to participate in Drum Corps International and other events by being able to network with other musicians," he said.
From his performances at the bowl, leading into Drum Corps, and eventually school, music continues to be part of his life.
"I am extremely appreciative of the opportunities that were opened to me by my recruiters and the Army. Because of my experience, I knew that there were a vast number of opportunities in the Army and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be a part of Army music."