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77TH ARMY BAND
 FORT SILL, OKLAHOMA -

Band Performs at Speedway

By James Brabenec
Ft. Sill Cannoneer

News story photo
Photo credit: James Brabenec
Fort Sill's 77th U.S. Army Band played to a slightly larger audience than normal as about 100,000 people stood intently listening to the 30-member ensemble play the national anthem.

Fortunately for this throng this was but one portion of the spectacle of Indy car racing at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth Saturday evening.
The Army band's performance and inclusion in the race festivities came about through the diligence of their noncommissioned officer in charge of operations. Affectionately known as the band's booking agent, Sgt. 1st Class Marty Schmidt stepped in last September and immediately began promoting the band throughout the region. His influence on community outreach may crescendo later this year as he's already established contact with the Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys and Oklahoma City Thunder about playing at upcoming games.

"The worst they can say is 'no,'" said Schmidt.

Armed with that knowledge, he plunged into community-related activities in Oklahoma and north Texas to promote the versatile band as ambassadors of the U.S. Army. That work paid off with the high-visibility Indy car race that was broadcast on a major cable TV sports network.

"The band was busy with four performances Friday on post, but we were all really excited to play at Texas Motor Speedway," said Schmidt, a French horn player who doubles as the drum major. "I love doing events like this, because many people don't realize the Army has a band, and this gives us a great opportunity to reach out to the American public."

Though the band played before thousands, in this day of handheld Internet communication, that number could jump exponentially via social networking sites. Schmidt said his previous assignment in Japan attested to this global reach as the band played at a Major League Baseball game in Tokyo that later appeared on YouTube thanks to people who attended the game.
1st Sgt. Michael Plachinski called Schmidt's efforts above par for getting the word out about the band and thinking up great community outreach ideas. Not all are at major venues as the band recently marched in a parade in Hobart, Okla. that included famed musician Charlie Daniels.
"Sergeant Schmidt does a great job and gives us many opportunities to get out into the community and give people a glimpse of what the U.S. Army is all about," said Plachinski, who called his duties the greatest job ever.
Schmidt's work carries over to other Soldiers such as Staff Sgt. Mike Lowery, an Army recruiter in Lawton, who spoke of band involvement in the community.

"In something like a race, with all ages and demographics represented, the band can have a very good affect on recruiting, because they gets the Army name out to the public," he said.

To prepare for playing at the track, band members spent about four to five hours practicing music and marching maneuvers. Musical selections included standard patriotic fare such as "America the Beautiful" and "Stars and Stripes Forever." They also practiced marching in file formation then exploding out into a concert band formation, from which they played while standing on the race track. Combined with the drive times to the event and wait times once they arrived the band expended about 10 hours.
Marching out to the track, the band played through their "pregame" show then marched back to their waiting area as daredevil motorcyclist Robby Knievel revved up the crowd with a jump of more than 200 feet over emergency services vehicles. One track worker remarked Knievel never goes off on time seeking to build crowd excitement. This only added to the band's time consumption, but the significance was soon realized in ...

One minute, 20 seconds.

That time was Warrant Officer Michael Franz's estimation of how long it took to play the anthem. Though it was over quickly, he was still excited about the performance after the band returned to post late Saturday.

"The effect was amazing," said Franz, band commander. "Finishing the anthem and the Air Force jets ripping over the track right on cue, that's one moment I'll remember for a long time."

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