Recently, approximately 350 warrior musicians from Army bands around the world gathered at the Williamsburg, Va., Marriott Hotel for the 2008 Army Band Leader Training hosted by The Army School of Music.

The theme for this year's training was 'Relevant and Ready;' an appropriate message for the changing environment Army bands perform in today.

"Our program is in a lot of transition right now," said Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Camarda, the incoming command sergeant major for The Army School of Music. "There are a lot of challenges we're facing as we try to develop a program that meets the needs for our bands and Soldiers out there."

Camarda was instated during a change of responsibility ceremony Saturday at the 2008 ABLT that relinquished duty from Sgt. Maj. Joel Joyner.

Camarda was formerly the sergeant major for the Army European Command Band and Chorus, and Joyner is retiring after 30 years of service.

As he comes into his new position, Camarda said he hopes to gain valuable feedback and insight from the Army Band Steering Group to develop requirements for The Army School of Music's mission of training warrior musicians for combat and peacetime.

The Army School of Music, located at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Norfolk, Va., trains warrior musicians in a 23-week Advanced Individual Training and in eight-week Basic Non-Commissioned Officer and Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Courses. Warrior musicians, along with technical instruction, are also taught warrior tasks and battle drills during their time at The Army School of Music.

The 2008 ABLT took 18 months to plan. The issues that came out of the ABSG were used to determine the most appropriate and desired sessions for the training. The group also met the first day of training to finalize last-minute details.

"We planned (the ABLT) according to what we thought the needs were after having what we call the Army Band Steering Group," said Joyner. "Also, out in the field dictates what kind of training needs to be conducted at Army Band Leader Training."

Joyner also said that developing the ABLT centered on the Future Design Update, a transformation for Army bands referred to as Army Bands for the 21st Century.

He said the new concept is to "pair up with how the Army fights." The transformation is focusing training for Army bands on Music Support Teams to sustain split based operations.

According to Joyner and Camarda, the preparation for the transformation began three to five years ago with the first changes taking place in fiscal year 2008.

The transformation will classify Army bands into three main groups: Army Band Large, 60 to 65 warrior musicians; Army Band Medium, 50 to 55 warrior musicians; and Army Band Small, 40 warrior musicians. There are three Army Bands Large, three Army Bands Medium and approximately 27 Army Bands Small.

There are also four specialty bands: U. S. Military Academy Band, Army Field Band, Army Band "Pershing's Own" and Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.

"The power and success of this new capability will rely on creative and proactive planning by band leaders in order to provide the best musical groups possible," said Maj. Jim Keene, commandant of The Army School of Music, in his message provided in the ABLT program. "We must seek opportunities to communicate with senior leaders to ensure that bands are used as effectively as possible."

According to Capt. Leonel PeAfA+-a, Army School of Music Staff and Faculty Company commander, planning this year's training has been a full-time job for him and his staff of about eight Soldiers and civilians.

PeAfA+-a and his staff were responsible for coordinating special guest speakers and performing groups, providing logistical support, balancing the budget for the overall event, scheduling presenters for each session, and more.

Throughout the five-day training event, leaders attended a variety of sessions from specific instrument clinics to questions-and-answers with Army School of Music and Army Band non-commissioned officers.

Participants were able to hear from guest speakers such as Maj. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson, commanding general of Army Combined Arms Support Command, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, deputy chief of Army Public Affairs, Dr. James Jordan, a professor of music at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and Dr. Thomas Barnett, a strategic planner and the senior managing director at Enterra Solutions, LLC.

Special performances included jam sessions from various Army Band components and The Salsa Band from the 248th Army Band of the Puerto Rico National Guard.

"I hope that everyone will be able to take away valuable training and knowledge that will help them improve the entire Army Band field's ability to support the Army in the most effective way possible," said PeAfA+-a about his and his staff's planning of the event.

The guest speakers and various sessions were geared toward better providing the ABLT attendees insight into how warrior musicians play into the overall structure of the Army.

During his presentation, Phillips, reading an e-mail from Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III, chief of Army Public Affairs, said that for many Americans the Army Band may be their only connection with Soldiers.

Stevenson related stories of how Army bands always encouraged Soldiers to continue the battle.

Staff Sgt. Michael Kokoszka, supply sergeant of the 215th Army Band from Fall River, Mass., said he enjoyed listening to the speakers and learning how he has a part in the "global overlook" of the Army; however he looked most forward to the musical performances.

"As a musician, you're always playing. So, I always like to listen to the musical portion," said Kokoszka. "It's always nice to listen to Army Soldiers playing."

Kokoszka's fellow warrior musician from the 215th Army Band Sgt. 1st Class Robert Bean won the 2008 Army Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year award during a ceremony held at the ABLT.

"As leaders, we must take an active role in bringing in the people who can accomplish the mission of Army bands: to promote music throughout the spectrum of military operations, to instill in our forces the will to fight and win, to foster the support of our allies, and to promote national interests at home and abroad," said Keene.