LINCOLN, Neb. – After a year filled with unique challenges and unexpected emergencies, members of the Nebraska Army National Guard’s Lincoln-based 43rd Army Band helped communities across the northeastern region state come back together again when they renewed their annual concert tour in June.
The weeklong summer tour concluded June 17, 2021, with a well-attended, in-person concert in West Point, Nebraska. Later, members of the band said they were excited to get back out onto the road again and happy that they were able to help Nebraska citizens regain a sense of normalcy.
“It was uplifting and invigorating to once again be able to perform music for our citizens of Nebraska,” said 1st Sgt. Eric Fahrlander, the band’s senior enlisted leader. “Many of these small towns were in need of this type of entertainment, so it was received quite well.”
The Summer 2021 Concert Tour June 10-17 was a part of the 43rd Army Band’s two-week annual training. During the course of the tour, the military band visited seven communities located in eastern and northeastern Nebraska.
For many people, this was one of the first in-person community concerts they had attended since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. The Nebraska Army Guard Soldiers said they were happy to be part of the process of bringing people back together again.
“Just being able to see how grateful these communities were for the opportunity to socialize with their friends and neighbors meant the world to me,” said Spc. Nicholas Johnson, a guitar player and percussionist from Fremont. “I continue to feel great pride in knowing that my unit was able to reach Nebraska’s citizens in such a meaningful way.”
This year’s summer concert tour wasn’t just important to local Nebraskans, either. According to members of the 43rd Army Band, being able to get back out onto the road and perform in front of live audiences after a year where opportunities were extremely limited due to COVID-19 helped the Soldiers to also regain a sense of normalcy. They added that the benefits to visiting the Nebraska communities was readily evident.
“Having evening meals in each location was an additional benefit, where we could strengthen our relationship with them as well as provide a little boost to their economy,” Fahrlander said.
Even though opportunities to play live concerts were limited in 2020, that doesn’t mean that the members of the 43rd Army Band weren’t busy. In fact, like many other Nebraska National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who were called upon to respond to a number of different emergency challenges over the past two years, the members of the band frequently found themselves in new and unfamiliar roles.
Along with performing a series of virtual concerts last year, many band members volunteered for a variety of state and federal emergency response missions, allowing them to step out of their musical element and earn valuable new experiences.
One of these missions included providing election support during Nebraska’s primary elections in May 2020. Sgt. Kyle Cartwright of Lincoln was one of the 134 Soldiers and Airmen who volunteered to be placed on State Active Duty orders to assist local election officials during the peak of the first wave of COVID-19. His duties included moving and sanitizing equipment and being prepared to assist any understaffed precincts.
“I will always remember the time spent with fellow unit members and other Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers -- of all ranks, backgrounds and livelihoods -- to support an essential function of our democracy,” Cartwright said. “We bonded in a unique way that doesn't always happen in a day-to-day mission environment.”
During the 59th Presidential Inauguration support mission, Johnson volunteered to help and was assigned to the Joint Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (JRSOI) team. Johnson was tasked with assisting in the mobilization and subsequent demobilization of 274 Nebraska Guard members in less than 36 hours.
“I will always remember being able to serve my state and country in a capacity outside of my normal responsibilities,” Johnson said. “I’m honored to have played a positive role during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history.”
Another band member, Sgt. Troy Ehmke of Hastings also served on the JRSOI team. His duties included the in-processing and out-processing of Soldiers called up to provide wide-ranging support duties. He said the experience was especially meaningful as it gave him a chance to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities.
“It made me stronger in other areas that we typically don't do,” Ehmke said.
While their summer concert series has ended, the 43rd Army Band looks forward to conducting even more in-person performances in the future.
“I love being a part of the 43rd army band,” Ehmke said. “That is one of the best decisions I have ever made, to be a bandsman in the Nebraska National Guard.”