Army's musical ambassadors

Field band seeks to keep military ties with civilians

July 04, 2008|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN REPORTER

Army Sgt. Maj. Joel Dulyea answers his nation's call of duty with an exquisite tenor.

Dulyea serves not overseas, but in the homeland. He does not carry a weapon. Instead, he visits small towns in middle America, performing in high school gymnasiums and on makeshift stages and singing patriotic numbers such as "God Bless the USA" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

He is a member of the Fort Meade-based Army Field Band, one of a group of military ensembles whose mission has changed from raising war bonds in World War II to boosting morale in the current "global war on terror." Few days are as big for these bands as Independence Day, when Dulyea's 90-member concert band and chorus is to perform on a river barge before a large crowd in Pittsburgh.

Other military bands like the "President's Own" United States Marine Band and the United States Navy Band in Washington mostly play before dignitaries at official ceremonies and funerals.

But the Army Field Band is the only military group whose primary mission is to tour the United States and play for local audiences. The 139-member band considers itself the "musical ambassadors" of the Army.

"The United States Army is always very associated with the American flag and what that stands for," said Dulyea, 53. "I think people like to stand up and cheer for their country, and I think we give them a chance to do that."

Because they rarely perform for heads of state, this band isn't seen on television very often.

But they're on the road more than 100 days a year, traveling in motor-coach buses, staying in midrate hotels, and living off $34-a-day stipends. Their itineraries include places such as Goodland, Kan., and Napoleon, Ohio. Today, the Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors will perform in Holland, Mich., and the Volunteers, its rock-style group, will play in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

At a time when spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is high and the military is straining to keep troops in the field, band leaders say their $2.5 million, taxpayer-funded budget goes to a worthy cause.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group, said his group has not studied spending on military bands, but that public relations programs can be worthwhile.

He likened spending on military bands to spending on pamphlets that explain an organization's mission.

"Those sort of things, within reason, can be fine expenditures, and you just want to make sure it doesn't become overwhelming," Ellis said.

U.S. military bands trace their origins to before the Revolutionary War, when drummers performed for marching practice during militia drills, according to the Army's Web site. Militia units in the Colonies used the services of bands, mostly for ceremonies.

In subsequent wars, the bands played for troops, boosting morale.

"In wartime or in peacetime, they're spokesmen for building morale, recruitment, image building," said Robert Garofalo, a Montgomery County author who has written on the history of military bands.

Some of the best-known military bands are the United States Army Band, the United States Navy Band and the United States Marine Band, which performs for more than 300 White House audiences a year.

The Army Field Band traces its origins to the late days of World War II, when a chief warrant officer returned from overseas duty to help organize the First Combat Infantry Band, according to the Army Field Band's Web site. They toured the country promoting the sale of war bonds.

Now, the band's mission is to establish a connection between everyday Americans and the military.

They perform hundreds of times in a year, in towns so small that, members recall, they once stayed in a hotel room with a sign above the sink that read, "Please Don't Clean Your Pheasants."

The band frequently gets e-mails from small-town Americans who are touched by their performances.

"There just aren't any bases in a lot of these areas. We're the only military they see," said Sgt. 1st Class Bernhard Yutesler, a 34-year-old tuba player in the Army Field Band.

Its concerts are free. Most of its budget goes toward travel expenses.

Members range in age from early 20s to mid-50s. The longest-serving member joined the band in 1974. Most members are enlisted men and women who go through basic training; the conductors are officers. They are considered to be on permanent duty assignment, which means they don't move around to different bases.

Competition to join is intense.

A vacancy happens maybe once a year, typically drawing dozens of applications. Five to seven finalists are brought in to audition from behind a screen.

Yutesler, the tuba player, recalled watching the band perform near his hometown in northern Colorado.

He began playing the tuba at age 12. Like most band members, he earned a music degree. But because he had trouble finding a civilian job as a tuba player, he enlisted in the Army in 1999, joining the 101st Airborne Division Band.

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