"Silver Wings" Band Jazzes up Mardi Gras

By Marti Gatlin
Army Flier Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS—Sandwiched between a colorful, intricately designed float and costumed characters on horseback, Fort Rucker’s 98th Army “Silver Wings” Band paraded six miles down New Orleans’ historic streets for the first time during the 2007 Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras, meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, is considered a celebration of life before the Catholic Lenten season.
Jazz tunes flowed for more than four hours as the band played and marched in perfect formation Feb. 20 during the historic Rex Parade, stopping only to interact with the public.
Some Soldiers’ faces turned beet red and sweat poured down their foreheads as they pumped out familiar jazz songs to onlookers, some of whom left the parade sidelines long enough to dance and mingle with band members when the parade stopped. Among the admirers was New Orleans native Emelie Oppman, who was dressed as a modern-day Japanese adolescent. Moving in time to the Soldiers’ music, and outfitted in a bright, light blue wig and summertime kimono, the 10-year-old said she joined in on a whim to dance.
“It was a lot of fun and exciting,” she said. “You all have a great band. They played very well.”
Oppman added that she thought it was funny when Sgt. Andres Ramos stopped playing the snare drum and began break dancing during a pause in the parade.
During their performance under cloudy skies, occasional sunshine and warm temperatures, the “Silver Wings” band entertained with military, musical band arrangements and traditional blues including “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “St. Louis Blues.”
Four Army musicians called their Mardi Gras Big Easy experience challenging and one they hope to be part of again.
Wife and husband team, Jennifer and David Champagne, both 24-year-old specialists from Houston, said it was fun to change their daily band routine and perform in a different venue.
“Performing in parades is a mind-set — staying in step, playing, reading music while playing and watching the drum major for commands of when to stop and turn,” said Jennifer, who plays saxophone and bassoon and has performed in only two parades.
Drum major and Sgt. 1st Class Jody Manford helped keep band members in sync.
“We move when he tells us to,” Jennifer said. “We do practice a lot. It’s not difficult (to do parades) but you have to concentrate.”
She said her feet were sore from marching the long distance, but “everybody was appreciative of us being there which is what I hoped for.”
Both Jennifer and David also performed with the “Silver Wings” band in the Feb. 10 Mobile Mardi Gras parade to help prepare for New Orleans.
David, a drummer, said the best part of the New Orleans experience was playing for the crowd during breaks throughout the parade, and sitting in on two songs with a band in a local Bourbon Street jazz club the night before the parade.
Even though Spc.Brandon Clark’s abilities were tested during the parade, the trombonist said he enjoyed watching the crowd’s reaction to the Soldiers’ music. The 20-year-old, who is the youngest band member, suffered a bloody lip from playing about halfway through the performance. He also had a stomach virus, so the six miles challenged him even more, the Mobile native said.
A frequent visitor to New Orleans, saxophonist Sgt. 1st Class Terrence Washington, 49, from Bay Minette, Ala., said he attended Mardi Gras with his cousin last year, but this was the first time he marched in the New Orleans parade.
A 21-year Army-veteran band member, Washington described his Big Easy trip as one of his career high points.
“It gave the Army band good exposure to the public, and hopefully, the performance was a good caliber, and maybe a kid will get interested in serving their country and playing music at the same time (in an Army band),” said the father and grandfather.
Four Army Infantry Center Band members from Fort Benning, Ga., also performed during Mardi Gras with the “Silver Wings” band.

Back to News Home

Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

Distinctive Unit Insignia