Today’s guest blogger is no stranger to the Soldier Story Saturday series. You may remember Lani from her first guest post, A Tale of Two Soldiers. Since Lani last guest posted she has completed the Rock ‘n’ Roll Phoenix half marathon in just a little over 2.5 hours! Let’s not forget that she just recently had a baby! She is a rock star! Not only running wise but also in her dedication to the army. Read her story to see for yourself!
I am an Army Bandsman, a trombone player to be exact. I have deployed twice, once to Afghanistan for 6 months and once to Iraq for a year. What does an Army Bandsman do during a deployment, you may ask? I will tell you.
Primarily we have a musical mission. It should be a completely musical mission, but many Army bands have not managed to achieve that yet. However, I was with the 10th Mountain Division Band when that occurred in Iraq. But let’s back up to Afghanistan first.
The band played some music while I was in Afghanistan. We played for various ceremonies and we played some concerts for Veterans Day and Christmas. Some of the small groups (primarily the Brass Quintet and Rock Band) went to the small outlying FOBs (Forward Operating Base) to play for the troops out there. We didn’t just play for Soldiers and we didn’t just play for Americans. We played for all branches of service and also service members from many other countries as well. And we played a lot (too many) Ramp Ceremonies. Those were the hardest gigs to play as we were playing for our fallen comrades as they began their final journey home. We would play as the humvees were driving up with the casket(s) on them and then played as the casket was carried onto the plane. It was a very emotional ceremony, but also an honor to play them.
But we had another mission as well. We had a tower on the camp perimeter that we had to man 24/7 and we had to supply Soldiers to help man the Entry Control Point (ECP). Both of those duties were 12 hour shifts. We were lucky in that our command team gave us 36 hours off between shifts; many units were doing 12 on/12 off. I was mostly with the group in the band that was doing the office work – I was in charge of arranging flights for groups going to the FOBs and getting busses and trucks for gigs on our camp. But I did get to spend a few 12 hour shifts in the tower and one 12 hour shift on the ECP. Those definitely were experiences. One thing I learned while in the tower is that kids are kids no matter where in the world you are. One morning near the end of my shift, there was a group of kids playing near the wire (outside the camp) and they were playing tag and splashing in the mud puddles and having a good old time just like American kids do!
And now on to Iraq. We had a 100% musical mission in Iraq and played for tens of thousands of troops (again from all branches of service and from many countries) in the 400 gigs we did during our year there. We got to travel all over the country to many, many FOBs and played at ceremonies not just for Americans (the biggest one I played at was the Change of Command between General Petraeus and General Odierno, the outgoing and incoming commander of US Forces Iraq), but for other countries as well. Various small ensembles played in the chow halls weekly and for special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the rock band or Dixieland band would play at the many 5K/10K/other races on our camp and the adjoining one. We also played for Iraqis, in ceremonies and for the general public. The ceremonies were Detainee Release Ceremonies (for those that had been detained but had been deemed ok to be released) and graduation ceremonies for Iraqi forces. The graduation ceremonies were quite moving – the Iraqis really put their heart into singing their National Anthem, which we played at all ceremonies. We also played for the general Iraqi public several times. Once was for a school near our camp. The kids really liked the music and some of the kids got to try out the instruments. We also played for a Water Treatment Facility grand opening, and for an awards ceremony in a town that had been deemed hopeless. But an American unit had gone in and won over the people of that town and turned things around. This awards ceremony was a historic event for the Iraqi people, especially the women. Women generally had to be home before dark, but they were allowed to stay for this ceremony. Such amazing progress!
Both deployments were certainly eye opening experiences, and despite me missing my husband and son, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. And knowing that my family is proud of me makes it worth it!
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