NY National Guard musicians play at Jerusalem July 4 bash

By Eric DurrAugust 8, 2023

42nd Infantry Division Band rock and roll ensemble performs for U.S. Embassy Israel
Soldiers assigned to the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division Band's rock ensemble perform during the U.S. Embassy's Independence Day reception at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Israel on July 3, 2023. The band performed a two hour set during the almost four hour evening event. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

JERUSALEM--Nine Soldiers assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division Band spent their July 4 holiday weekend in Israel, performing at a reception hosted by the American Ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides.

The eight musicians, and a sound engineer, provided the background music for a July 3 party held at the Israel Museum, the country’s most important archeological museum located in Jerusalem.

The musicians, who make up the “Rock Band” of several musical performance teams that the 40-member band can break down into, played a two-hour set for the reception in the museum’s garden.

Those attending included Israeli legislators, the mayor of Jerusalem, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

“It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience,” said Staff Sgt. Drew Gansz, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Rock Band.

“It went pretty great,” he added. “There were a lot of moving parts, but it worked.”

“This was easily the coolest events we have ever played,“ said Spc. Noah Martella, the percussion player. “I never expected to do something like this when I enlisted with the 42nd Infantry Division Band.”

His musicians had prepared to play classic American pop tunes, Gansz said. They were ready to go with everything from Bruno Mars songs to Steely Dan and even the Bee Gees, he said.

It was good to be ready, he said, because they got a lot of requests.

“We had to adjust fire many times throughout the gig,” Gansz said.

For example, they had to extend their set so that they would be playing when the Israeli prime minister arrived, said Sgt. Alexandria Johnson, a guitar player like Gansz. So,they added improvised solos to the song to make it last longer, she said.

The band worked well together, according to Sgt. Tejera-Velasquez Napoleon, the sound engineer.

“It was poetry in motion to see everyone execute what was necessary to achieve a successful mission,” she said.

The rock band members left for Israel on June 30 and returned on July 5 on board a C-17 Globemaster III flown by the New York Air Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing.

There was a lot going on, but they did have time to visit key sites in Jerusalem, to include the Wailing Wall, as well as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and Mount Zion.

The 42nd Infantry Division Band got into the embassy entertainment business because of the New York National Guard’s bilateral relationship with Israel’s Homefront Command, according to Maj. David Myones, the

New York National Guard’s State Partnership Program coordinator.

The embassy usually asks for an active duty band for this annual event, Myones said. In 2022, there was no active military band available, so the embassy staff reached out to the New York National Guard.

Then, a week out from July 4, there was no time to respond, Myones said.

This year, the Central Command Band said no to the embassy staff in March, so they turned to New York, Myones said.

“We were able to support with 90 days' notice because we are going to be doing it on the cheap,” Myones said.

The band’s annual training event — a week of rehearsals and a week-long performance tour across New York — was already scheduled for that period, he said. And the 105th Airlift wing was able to provide transport on one of their C-17s.

So, while most of the band plays concerts in Seneca Falls, Lewiston and Tonawanda, Gansz and his ensemble traveled to Israel.

It was stressful getting everything ready, but it was worth it all, Gansz said.

“The audience was incredibly receptive to our performance, and once we were done with our work for the night, it seemed that there was an endless flow of people trying to talk to us, take photos with us, and ask us about what we do,” Gansz said.