By Steve Arel, U.S. Army Cadet CommandJanuary 4, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 4, 2012) -- Abel Alvarado's mother once made a solemn request of him. When she dies, she wants her son, a talented trumpeter, to perform "Taps" at her funeral.
Alvarado wasn't sure what to make of her wish. After all, he was in sixth grade at the time.
"I didn't really want to think about it," Alvarado said.
But his mother makes him. She brings it up every year.
"Of course, I'll do it," he said, laughing.
Alvarado, a 20-year-old junior at the University of the Incarnate Word, is one of a handful of Senior ROTC Cadets, who are also All-American Bowl marching band alumni, brought in to help with logistics for this year's members and to help out where needed. The band, made up of 125 senior high schoolers from across the country, will perform a 13-minute patriotic routine during halftime of Saturday's 12th annual Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome.
Alvarado, in particular, has been called on to provide widespread mentorship. He's also using his spotlight to talk up opportunities to serve through Army ROTC.
Alvarado's makeshift lesson plan covers topics such as motivation, leadership and being part of something greater than oneself. All of which represent hallmarks of the American Soldier.
The messages have made an impression on some band members, who are high school seniors.
Matt Soderberg of Salem, Va., and Elliott Stewart of Irmo, S.C., said they are giving serious consideration to joining ROTC after spending time with Alvarado and peppering him with questions about college life and the lifelong impact of military service.
"He's certainly given me something to think about," Soderberg said. "There are leaders and followers in college. (ROTC) shows you about leadership in the college setting."
Stewart is part of the Air Force Junior ROTC program at his school. And until this week, when he learned from Alvarado there are ways he could continue his musical pursuit while in uniform, he had been teetering on whether to continue on a military trek.
"If I continue it in college, I think it'll take me to great places," Stewart said.
He remembers a story Alvarado told the band's trumpet players about playing "Taps" and moving people to tears.
"I use that as motivation," Stewart said. "I want to inspire people and influence others."
Alvarado played trumpet as part of the 2009 All-American Bowl band as a selection from Spring Branch, Texas.
After graduating high school, he knew he was destined for a career in the military. Both his parents were Army officers. His mother is a former professor of military science at St. Mary's University in San Antonio and started the Army ROTC program at Incarnate Word.
For as much instability as the child of Soldiers provided with constant moves, it provided a foundation of social skills in which Alvarado was challenged to routinely make new friends and adapt to new surroundings. The Army also provided medical care, financial well-being and, now, a collegiate education.
"It's not for everybody," Alvarado told some of the band members this week. "If you're on the edge (of whether to participate or not), give it a shot. I remember when I put on the uniform for the first time. I stayed in it all day. I felt official. This is what professionals wear. I felt like I could do anything."
For Alvarado, the chance to mentor the musicians, especially the trumpeters, is one he said he relishes. He talks about how being part of ROTC drives him to excel physically and academically.
Alvarado considers the chance to perform for Soldiers on the Alamodome field a reward. During a chat with All-American Bowl musicians Wednesday at Alamo Stadium, he reminded them of the significance of their role.
"You're doing things people have never seen before," Alvarado said. "Some people have never seen a good band. And you all are getting a chance to do something awesome."
He encouraged the trumpeters to take what they learn in San Antonio and share those lessons and experiences with others. Perhaps, he said, it will motivate them to improve professionally and personally.
"The Army is all about leadership," Alvarado said. "The Army doesn't use the slogan 'Be all you can be' anymore, but I do. I've wanted to be the best I could be."
Alvarado continues to play trumpet, though admittedly not as much as he'd like. He still performs at some local ceremonies and ROTC events. Through his music, Alvarado has been able to meet Medal of Honor awardess, combat veterans and other Soldiers from around the world.
Alvarado, who's majoring in biology for pre-pharmacy, commissions in 2013, and he hopes to branch medical services corps. He sees it as a way to help his community by serving his nation and a way to help his nation by serving its fighting men and women.
"What better way to serve my community than by serving my country and taking care of people?" he said. "That's what I thought I'd be best at and what I have the most passion about."
As he has seen the All-American Bowl band quickly gel and settle into Saturday's planned routine, Alvarado thinks about the week he spent in San Antonio three years ago and misses it.
"This band has moved efficiently," he said. "This brings back a lot of good memories. I remember being scared to death, but I was with some of the best musicians from other schools. There'll never be anything I can do like this again musically."