By Kevin Stabinsky, USAG Fort McPhersonNovember 24, 2010
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Eric McKee's face is swollen and red as he strains to breathe oxygen into his lungs.
He looks similar to someone who has just struggled to complete the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). However, his breathlessness is due to something else his Army career has put in his life - the bagpipes.
For the past 18 months, McKee, an improvised explosive device task force member with U.S. Army Forces Command's engineers section, has been playing the bagpipes, a skill he learned when deployed to Afghanistan.
"One of my fellow warrants (warrant officers) had played for 10 years. Once we settled in, he offered to teach classes."
Eight people took up the challenge, including McKee. However, at the end of the deployment, only two remained.
"Different people have different (levels of) musical aptitude," McKee said. "I'm very musically inclined, so it came fairly easily to me."
A former trombone player for 10 years, the time spent on that instrument helped him to adapt to the bagpipes, said McKee, adding he had wanted to learn how to play them for a long time.
"I've always loved the sound of it (the bagpipes)," McKee said. "It's something I always wanted to play."
Although McKee's Scottish ancestry and heritage has always motivated him to learn the bagpipes, he never picked it up due to other issues.
"Life happens," McKee said, adding his life took him halfway across the world to a foreign country and into the company of a bagpipes player.
McKee's hobby followed him home from Afghanistan. Two or three times a week the sound of his pipes can be heard throughout Fort McPherson.
Not all responses are full of praise, said McKee.
"People either love it or hate it. There's no in between with bagpipes," he said.
No matter people's opinions, McKee said playing has been not only the fulfillment of a long dream, but has also allowed him to honor his fellow Soldiers.
"In Afghanistan, I played memorials to honor fallen Soldiers," he said.
Though practice, which lasts from half an hour to an hour-and-a-half, can sometime be hard, due to what he describes as the instrument's temperament, it isn't a pursuit he is giving up, said McKee. Depending on what side of the bagpipes fence a listener sits on, this is either a good or bad holiday gift.