By Tom Mani MDW Public AffairsNovember 10, 2009
The Army Drill Team joined participants from around the world in Roanoke, Va., for the highlight of the Virginia Arts Festival, a military tattoo that is quickly earning a reputation to rival that of Basel, Halifax or Edinburgh's.
The Virginia Military Tattoo began in 1997, and with three public performances May 1 to 3, marked its 13th year with a lineup of some 850 performers. The dozen members of what is at present the smallest Army Drill Team to perform in public put on a routine that had an impact far in excess of its numbers on the floor of the Scope Arena.
First Lt., now Capt., Glen Brown said his unit would be back to full-strength by the time of Spirit of America in September, but that now some of his seasoned members were conducting a training camp for other Old Guardsmen wanting to join the celebrated team. In addition to a couple of school visits that the Drill Team made during the week in Norfolk, the Tidewater Region's school children were treated to a free dress rehearsal of the tattoo on April 30, and lustily cheered the military bands, massed pipes and drums, gymnasts, dancers, singers and, of course, the Army Drill Team.
For whatever reason, the tosser threw his Springfield rifle with a bit of extra adrenaline. In most cases the bayonet arcs just past the catcher's right ear, but this time it over-rotated and caught Spc. Thomas Morton in the side. The team completed the routine as if nothing had happened, but Morton needed to be patched up.
Accordingly, Pfc. Todd Nottingham "broke in" at the Friday performance that celebrated the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., visited with Drill Team as they dressed for the performance, wishing Nottingham and the others a successful drill. "I'd say break a leg," he joked, but added that the traditional theatrical good luck wish failed to resonate with a concern for safety. The public does not see "the bumps and bruises" that team members acquire in their practice. Rowe said he had hoisted the World War I-era rifle used - the 1903 Springfield, more than ten pounds with the bayonet - and well appreciated the difficulty that went into the well-timed, silent routines.
The Army Drill Team's five-minute drill included line drills, the gauntlet and the circling "hat band" routines as well as the front-to-rear overhead rifle toss, the concluding element. There was no soloists drill - cut to allow time for about 15 other acts to have their share of crowd attention and applause.
Among the groups attending, the Band and Drill Team of His Majesty the King's Guard followed their appearance in Norfolk with travel to Washington, D.C., for appearances at Wednesday's Twilight Tattoo at Fort McNair. A planned Tuesday concert at the Lincoln Memorial with the Army Concert Band fell victim to rain showers, the inclement weather call coming a few hours before what would have been a real treat, the Norwegian band and drill team showing great precision for their size.
The Virginia Military Tattoo joined the International NATO/Azalea Festival in honoring the Czech Republic, whose National Defense Band displayed both humor and style in its march steps while showcasing Czech music.
Other international groups were the German Gym Wheel Team, Taunusstein; pipes and drums from several Canadian military units, a troupe of highland dancers from New Zealand, and the Multi-National Ceremonial Detail from Headquarters, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, representing the 26 countries of the NATO alliance. Other representatives of the United States Military were the U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Band and the U.S. Marine Corps Band, Quantico.
A platoon of Marines from the 3rd Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Company divided into desert camo and woodlands squads to run identical obstacle courses, delivering a flash grenade at the far end and returning to the start to execute a synchronous volley with their weapons.
"That was hot," Rowe told the Marines after the performance. "I liked that." The arena audience had been asked to cheer the squad on their side. Rowe did, and his squad, dressed out in desert uniforms, bested the other. Part of the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, FAST platoons deploy on expeditionary antiterrorism and security operations in support of fleet commanders. Missions might include port side security during fueling of nuclear-powered ships or site security for humanitarian aid distribution points.
The Virginia Tattoo drew on local organizations as well. The producers went up to Williamsburg to bring in the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums, a group celebrating its 50th anniversary. And they drew on the Scottish Dance Theater, augmented by Irish dancers from the Rhythm of Ireland Dance Company to stage, together with the New Zealand Dance Ensemble, a number title "Norfolk Ladies," where gaslight lamps recalled Norfolk's bustling Granby Street where sailors pay court to the ladies to lively jigs and reels.
Besides the tattoo performances, which collectively drew an audience of about 25,000, most units also took part in the Festival of Nations Parade Saturday morning, parading with high school bands, majorettes and flag twirlers from the Norfolk waterfront east into the downtown streets. Floats from nearly every NATO country displayed symbols of the nation, along with scholars, a reigning "princess" and other attendants. Scott Jackson, producer/director of the tattoo, spoke to a VIP reception before the tattoo, describing its origin and aspirations. The tattoo came together in a week of rehearsals, a tribute to the preparation of the units and sparking Jackson's memory of an orchestra rehearsal by the great Leonard Bernstein. The clarinets were a bit off key, but rather than correct them, he simply told the clarinets and the violins that they must listen to each other.
"That's why this is more than just an entertainment," Jackson said. "We come together from different countries, different backgrounds, and we are listening to each other." The quotation, recalled from memory, may not be exact, but the chance to come together, in the host city of NATO's only United States headquarters, and celebrate an alliance that kept freedom alive in the west for 60 years will be long and well remembered.
And who knows the impact of the Army Drill Team visits to Tucker-Capps Elementary School in Hampton, Va., April 28, and Kiln Creek Elementary School in Newport News, Va., April 29' Kiln Creek Principal Deborah Pack, writing to thank the Soldiers for their visit, said that she has witnessed "several little guys marching with their own version of what they had just seen." A favorite misspelling in some of the letters written by the students" "Asom!"