FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- In sixth grade, he picked up his first drumsticks and a love for music was born.

Today, more than 25 years later and six years as an Army Reserve musician, Staff Sgt. Chad J. Alward received the inaugural 2010 Col. Finley Hamilton Outstanding Military Musician Award during a Feb. 13 ceremony at the 81st Regional Support Command headquarters here.

The award is given to the 10 best military musicians from all branches of the armed forces. A member of the 100th Army Reserve Band, based at Fort Knox, Ky., he was the only Army Reserve musician selected for the honor.

Alward's name now is associated with great musicians who perform with the U.S. Military Academy Band, the United States Army Field Band, the United States Coast Guard Band and the Navy School of Music.

"This just shows the high caliber of Soldiers we have here in this command," Maj. Gen. Bill Gerety, the commanding general, said during the brief ceremony. "Our bandsmen are more than musicians. They are Soldiers first. Most importantly, they are our front-line ambassadors for not only the Army Reserve but the entire Army."

Growing up, Alward had no musical background, and no one in his family was a musician. He said he joined the elementary school band because he wanted to do something fun and different.

"It kind of stuck with me," he said about his early years as a percussionist. "Today, I couldn't see myself not having an instrument in my hands."

Alward said he has learned all instruments played in a typical Army band, but still favors the percussion as his choice of instrument.

"It's what turned me on to music all those years ago," he said about the drums.
At the age of 30, Alward made a decision that wasn't easy at the time and he was not your typical Soldier arriving at basic training.

"It was a great opportunity to do something for my country," he said. "So many people before me have given much more than I could ever give this nation. I have the ability to use my musical gifts to inspire others to serve their country as well."

Holding two masters degrees from Murray State University and a vice principal of an elementary school in Kentucky, Alward was also a husband and father of a five-year-old son when he joined the Reserve.

"At first he didn't understand," he said about leaving his son. "Today, he doesn't like that I am gone so much but understands my passion for being in the Army and playing music."

Alward said he hopes his son, now 11 years old, realizes the importance of the men and women in uniform and the sacrifices they make.

"My son always inspires me to do my best, and I hope that me being in the Army Reserve is something he can be proud of and understand our values and morals as Soldiers," he said.

As he walks the halls of Deer Park Elementary School in Owensboro, Ky., Alward said he sees America's future senior noncommissioned officers and general officers to fill the ranks long after he is retired.

"I hope they see the pride we have as members of the Army," said Alward, the school's band director. "We are a member of a time-honored corps, and I am proud to put the uniform on to tell the army story through music."

Chief Warrant Officer Lawrence Barton, the unit commander, said it was an easy choice to select Alward to represent the 100th Army Reserve Band.

"He does things for this band that is above and beyond what a Soldier is required to do," he told the audience at the ceremony. "Alward is at the top of his field and really makes the 100th Army Reserve Band one step above the others."

Command Sgt. Major James Wills, the senior enlisted Soldier for the "Wildcat" command, said Alward is a true inspiration for other Soldiers -- peers and subordinates.

"He is a Soldier who stepped up to the plate and took ownership of his career," he said. "It is our basic responsibility as noncommissioned officers to be leaders and forge a bright future for Soldiers who will follow in our footsteps."

Wills said all Soldier musicians assigned to the three Army Reserve bands under the 81st RSC are capable of receiving the award next year.

"A year from now, it will again be told the 81st Regional Support Command leads the way in recognizing the top military musicians in our armed forces."