By John B. SnyderJune 22, 2010
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. - The Army Materiel Command Band's three concerts this past weekend in New York's Capital District touched thousands of area residents -- residents who will certainly remember the band members as great musicians. But more importantly, area residents will also remember the band members as great Soldiers due to their unique ability to use music to connect the community to its Army.
Although the Albany area is not a military community as one would find at Fayetteville, N.C., that borders Fort Bragg, the Albany area is nevertheless a community with military. And tucked away between U.S. Army Reserve and New York State Guard units is the U.S. Army Watervliet Arsenal.
Given the Arsenal is the only active-duty Army post between West Point and Fort Drum, it was appropriate for the Arsenal to step up and share the Army's 235th Birthday with the local community.
To assist the Arsenal in highlighting the Army's Birthday would be an old community relations friend called the Army Materiel Command Band. The band visited the Albany-area last year and performed two concerts for the Arsenal, one of which was for one of the largest local community events called the Albany Tulip Festival.
So the coordination for a return was easier because of the positive impression the band made with Arsenal and civic leaders last year.
As part of the Arsenal's weeklong Army birthday celebration, the band had three performances. A performance at the Albany VA Medical Center on Friday night was followed the next day by a concert for the City of Watervliet's RiverFest Celebration. The band completed its final venue Sunday evening before a crowd of more than 2,500 at the City of Albany's Father's Day Concert.
Although the smallest venue, the Jazz Combo show at the Albany VA Medical Center may have been the most powerful performance.
According to one VA staff member, some of the Veterans who were in attendance have been hospitalized at that medical center for up to five years. And for many Veterans, this performance was one of their few contacts with the outside world and certainly of today's active-duty Soldiers.
At least for a moment, some Veterans closed their eyes and allowed the melodies to transport them to a different place - a place maybe without wheelchairs and IV bottles.
At least for a moment, some Veterans listened to the words and allowed their thoughts to move from whatever pain or suffering that they have been living - to maybe a happier time.
At least for a moment, some Veterans' eyes watered as they struggled to clasp their hands together to applaud these young Soldiers' performance.
Despite some of their physical handicaps to actively applaud, some Veterans still managed to bring their hands ever so lightly together. Their fingers touched without a sound, but the applause could not have been louder.
A former Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra hit called, "Come Rain or Shine," may have been the most apropos of the song selections and one that visibly moved the small gathering. The words, although somewhat haunting, kind of speak to an Army Value, "To never leave a fallen comrade."
Days may be cloudy or sunny
We're in, or we're out of the money
But I'll love you always
I'm with you rain or shine
Call it love between Soldiers and Veterans, comradeship, or simply a feeling between battle buddies, at least for a moment those Veterans had a renewed sense that there were others outside of that medical center who were with them, come rain or shine.
Nevertheless, what a great and inspirational way to start the concert series.
Because most people only see the concert performances, what might have been missed is the amount of preparation required for each performance. The 90-minute City of Watervliet performance required about three times that amount of time for set-up, sound checks, final rehearsal and for march order or what some refer to as tear down. For the City of Albany concert, it was nearly a four to one ratio of preparation time to concert time due to the larger venue.
Sue Cleary, the City of Albany events director, and Bob Loya, the City of Watervliet acting events planner, had similar comments about working with the AMC Band by their saying it was great working with the band because the Soldiers come in, set-up, are low maintenance, and at the end of the day put out a great performance.
Beyond the music, the 35-Soldier band's presence in the Capital District spurred a lot of questions by local residents. Several residents asked if the band members had to go through similar training, such as basic training, as other Soldiers do or do Army musicians ever serve in combat.
But contact with band members, such as Sgt. First Class Stephen Spohn and Sgt. Corrine Corbett, instilled in the community that Army band members are Soldiers first and musicians second. And just like many Soldiers, they have a passion to serve. This passion is not taught in books or in school but from service and shared hardships with their Army buddies.
Spohn joined the Army straight out of high school, as do most Soldiers. His initial plan was to serve four years and then head off to college. But something happened to Spohn along his journey to college ... his passion grew to continue to Soldier and now he has served for more than 15 years.
As with many Soldiers, Spohn's most profound experience is one of service in a combat zone. He recalled a time when his band performed for a small combat outpost in Iraq. "This performance truly touched my heart because the troops had just experienced a lot of fighting and therefore, were so thankful for entertainment," said Spohn.
Corbett had similar experiences as Spohn. When she enlisted out of high school her goal was to serve a few years and then attend college. Unlike Spohn, however, she got out of the Army after her stop loss order ended and she departed the 1st Cavalry Division for greener pastures, or so she thought.
"My husband was still in the Army and having great experiences, while I was in business school being bored," Corbett said. "I had to get my life back on track and so I signed back up for the Army." She is now nearing her 10th year of military service.
Corbett reflected back to her most memorable moment and it too was in a combat zone.
"I remember flying into a combat outpost in Iraq in the middle of the night thinking about how tired I was," said Corbett. "It was after I hit the ground and heard a firefight in the background did I think about how selfish my thought was and how much I wanted to now put on a great show for these troops."
As many of the community engaged these Soldiers, one by one their personal call to duty stories were told to a very thankful populace.
So, what started out as a birthday celebration turned out to be so much more than simply cutting a cake. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Peter Gillies, AMC Band Commander, and his Soldiers simply took this birthday celebration to the next level.
As a result of the AMC Band's three concerts to help the Watervliet Arsenal celebrate the Army's Birthday, thousands in the Capital District have personally experienced the professionalism and expertise of today's Soldiers. Veterans and band members have shared a powerful moment in time. And all inspiring Soldiers, such as Spohn, Corbett, and Gillies, have helped the community to not only think about Army band members as great musicians, but also to remember them foremost as great Soldiers.