FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Elements of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Band are preparing to join their fellow Screaming Eagle Soldiers in Europe this month as they work to assure NATO allies and deter Russian aggression.
The full ceremonial band, rock band and jazz combo are being deployed to the region for nine months to support the mission as both Soldiers and professional musicians. Their responsibilities could range from supporting troops in multinational training exercises to working with the State Department and embassies to promote public engagement.
“Music has unique capabilities to open minds, soften hearts and make communication more effective,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Landrum, commander, 101st Abn. Div. Band.
“It’s important for people to see a U.S. presence that’s not somebody holding a weapon, that’s not a military vehicle flying over their town,” he said. “It’s a human they can engage with, and we’re not pushing them away, we’re inviting a conversation to happen.”
Landrum said the Soldiers being deployed are versatile musicians who can handle ceremonies just as well as they can play chart-topping hits or folk songs, making them ideal for any performance the Department of Defense tasks them with.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to honor somebody else’s national identity by playing their national anthem in conjunction with ours for a ceremony or being able to play folk tunes that are really close to the hearts of people in the region,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe the responses that a big jazz band gets in Western Europe ... they’re so grateful for the legacy of service and sacrifice from the American military [during World War II], and to see somebody in uniform playing music their grandfathers may have listened to touches hearts and reinforces historical relationships.”
The 101st’s last major deployment to Europe took place nearly 80 years ago, and the band is slated to perform during a ceremony commemorating the division’s return once all the troops have arrived.
“We’re going to be the first band that’s going over to that area [on this mission], and it’s very strategic and important for us to go to support our allies,” said Cpl. Jonathan Kernan, primary unit transportation specialist, 101st Abn. Div. Band. “My first deployment was to Afghanistan in 2017, and I don’t really feel any differently going into this one ... we’re just doing as much as we can to prepare.”
Landrum said being ready to deploy is one of the band’s mission essential tasks and the process comes naturally to his Soldiers.
“Every day we’re preparing to deploy in that our mission of musical performance requires constant individual practice and group rehearsals,” he said. “We also went out to both Operation Lethal Eagle I and II, and for those things we had some requirements on the military side like performing certain security functions and details. That’s not technically in our mission set, but we’re prepared to if we need.”
Since the band’s training calendar promotes their readiness as Soldiers and musicians, Landrum said logistics are a major additional focus ahead of a deployment.
“I’ve been practicing on my instrument, packing things up, making sure everything’s clean and that we’re bringing the necessary things we can’t get over there so easily like extra strings or mouthpieces,” Kernan said. “I work in supply, so we’re also trying to make sure we can ship all of our things in the container express [CONEX] boxes, getting them clean and sending them through an agricultural wash [to prevent pest introduction].”
Sergeant First Class Jeremy Morrison, operations sergeant, 101st Abn. Div. Band, said he is excited to get to work once the band arrives in Europe.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to be a part of doing what our country asks us to do,” Morrison said. “We’re going out to try and deter problems and taking the band as a strategic asset to different villages and places when the division gets ready to do exercises.”
As operations sergeant, Morrison’s job will be to coordinate the band’s performances in the region based on the needs for each event. He said his previous experience overseas has prepared him for the task.
“I deployed with the 101st back in 2008 during Operation Enduring Freedom,” he said. “A lot of the things we did out there as far as moving our equipment onto different helicopters and planes, playing for troops in different locations and helping provide security are going to be similar. This is not new for Army bands, and we’re prepared to execute on a regular basis.”
Landrum said the band’s other Soldiers feel the same way, and that he is excited to join them on the division’s mission in Europe.
“It’s really neat to be able to have the opportunity to have such an amazing group of not just performers, but professionals,” he said. “They’re intelligent, they’re capable and they’re able to operate independently. We’re going to be able to get out to a lot of places and be effective at doing this mission, and I think it’s going to be a career highlight for a lot of our team.”