By T. Anthony BellJune 25, 2019
FORT LEE, Va. (June 25, 2019) -- A former math teacher turned musician here has earned the title of Army Music's Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Ames, a saxophonist assigned to the 392nd Army Band, was selected as the top NCO among more than 30 musician-Soldiers assigned to similar organizations around the world. The 11-year Soldier said he is grateful for the recognition.
"It is a good thing," said Ames, somewhat reluctantly. "It's nice to be acknowledged for the hard work I've done."
To earn the title, Ames was first nominated by his command team -- Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Landrum and then 1st Sgt. Stephanie Doehr. A packet was subsequently submitted to Army Music's higher headquarters where his record was assessed against his peers in the areas of physical fitness, weapons qualification, leadership attributes, music proficiency, awards and more.
Ames learned in April he had been named the winner, but the 36-year-old has been relatively low key about the achievement, saying he is always striving for the best representation of himself without expectations of pats on the back.
"It's just my job," he insisted. "I've spent my career showing up every day, doing the best I can and looking out for my Soldiers in every way I can; and whatever comes along with that … comes along with that."
As one of the senior enlisted members in his unit, Ames duties encompass many aspects of the 392nd's mission. Principally, he is the human resources NCO, performing a multitude of administrative duties. He also fills in when needed for the band's multitude of community performances.
Ames was only a part-time musician before his life in the Army. Teaching -- his fulltime gig -- was hitting all the wrong notes.
"I call it my quarter-life crisis," he said. "I was teaching high school algebra up in New York. I was missing music and was kind of struggling as a young, new teacher. I needed something to kind of shake up my life a little bit."
Ames, who did not major in music during college, began looking at service in one of the reserve components as a way to spice things up.
"I came across Army Music and thought, 'I might as well see if I can do this full time,' and not just as a member of the guard or reserve," he recalled, noting how the drudgery of classroom work was continuing to gnaw at him. "So, I took the audition to go fulltime, figuring I'd spend a few years doing it to get some loans paid off and go back to teaching … but I liked it and stayed."
The Army Music career field, unlike the majority of other military professions, requires auditions as a prerequisite for training as musician-Soldiers.
Furthermore, there are few slots available, comparatively, to other military career fields, which makes it very competitive. Ames said a combination of timing (he joined during a surge in recruitment), his grade-school music education and his history of side-gig performances helped him get selected.
"I did some work in pit orchestras and kind of kept up on things with the saxophone," he said. "I'm just glad it was enough to get me in."
Ames' award comes at a time when his unit is facing a September deactivation after a long history of music support at Fort Lee. Half of the unit's more than 30 members will relocated elsewhere in the coming months and the others will remain to play a support role in the Training and Doctrine Command Band's mission. That group is based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
Notwithstanding the gyrations of Army life, Ames said he has to continue to carry out his duties as an NCO, and as such, must keep mindful of what it takes to lead Soldiers on a daily basis. He said he is continuously reminded to take on his responsibilities as if he is a beneficiary.
"Soldiers deserve good leadership," he said. "They deserve to have leaders who can guide and mentor them and show them what right looks like. Everyone has had in their careers a leader who they didn't think was the best example, so I've just tried to do my best and not be that person."