By Sgt. 1st Class Mark BellFebruary 11, 2009
FORT KNOX, Ky. - They are police officers, educators, college students, and legal assistants, but for one weekend each month, they are a unique, cohesive team that has one thing in common - the love of music.
From Metallica to Mozart, members of the Army Reserve's 100th Army Band spent a recent two-day battle assembly crammed with reenlistments, combative training, a ceremonial performance, moving office furniture into their new home and completing large amounts of paperwork associated with running one of the Army Reserve's largest bands.
As Spc. Courtney Drown, the unit's in-house supply guru, handed out canteens and helmets to Soldiers, a nearby practice room fills with the hum of large amplifiers. The unit's sound technician, Spc. Doug Wurtele, tuned hundreds of knobs and pulsating lights on a state-of-the-art soundboard in a room lined with chairs and dozens of musical instrument cases.
"We have a nice place to practice, and that is important for these guys,"said 1st Sgt. Matt LaBabara about his 50-member band as they slowly occupied small spaces within the Fort Knox Performing Arts Center here.
Spc. Jason Lee, the band's resident guitar connoisseur and considered by his peers as one of the Army's best fret masters, quickly tuned his black and pearl guitar and began moving his fingers at near-blurring speed as he strummed out several noticeable tunes at near mach speed.
"It is amazing what he can do with that guitar," said Spc. Joshua Walters while shaking his head and watching Lee play the guitar.
Next to Lee is Spc. Lee Clements, the rock band's bass player. Sitting back in his chair, Clements began his ritual preparation to provide the powerful rhythmic bass guitar riffs for the band.
Relaxed and laughing, he kept an improvised bass beat for Lee's sporadic guitar solos.
Together, Lee and Clements seemed to be musically joined at the hip as they frequently changed a flawless rhythm without making eye contact.
With a pair of worn drum sticks in hand, Sgt. 1st Class John Pisano worked his way around a sea of music stands and the large black drum set tucked away in the corner.
He tapped a large gold cymbal as he took the helm of the band, as did Capt. James D. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise before each mission.
With thumbs up from Wurtele and the five-member brass section warmed up, Pisano announced to the busy room, "Let's start off with a little jam session, and make sure you keep up."
Seemingly on autopilot, Soldiers quickly stopped the somewhat chaotic individual preparations and focused their attention to Pisano and the task at hand - delivering a make-shift rock band jam using just their musical instincts and raw talents.
With loud smacks of the wooden drum sticks to signal the pace of the jam, Pisano and Lee kicked off an unrehearsed 10-minute hard-edged musical montage session that rattled the 30-foot high rafters and caused temporary loss of time and space for a small audience is captured by edgy, pulsating beats of the fine-tuned Army rock band.
"These guys are great," said LaBarbra over the loud music. "They have a talent and it shows."
Out the double-black doors and down a short hallway, sounds of ceremonial music echoed out of a small closet-like room as other 100th Army Band Soldiers of a brass quintet practiced a 360-degree swing of music genre.
With precision and harmony, the quintet corrected any minute flaws from the hour-long practice, and assured their commander they can perform any performance without worry.
"With our smaller musical support teams, mistakes can be more easily noticeable," Pisano said. "Those smaller musical groups have to deliver without mistakes and with confidence."
With the rock band pushing the noise envelope, the quintet rehearsing the Army Song and remaining band members moving furniture from trucks, LaBarbra orchestrated the seemingly chaotic day with the precision of a well-seasoned first sergeant.
"There is never a dull minute during battle assembly," LaBarbra said laughing. "We have great senior NCOs and a great bunch of younger Soldiers."
As the first day came to a close, a Soldier taps drum sticks on the walls, talking to another musician about meeting up with band members after work to rekindle friendships dormant during the past month.
The next day will come early as wrestling mats are unrolled and band members prepare for monthly level-one combative training.
"We are a large band and, therefore, I am able to be more self sufficient than other bands," he said about his combative instructors. "I want to make sure my Soldiers are well rounded Soldiers. We are Soldiers first, musicians second."