Army Field Band cancels spring tour

By Sara Blumberg
Capital Gazette

News story photo
Photo credit: Master Sgt. Robert McIver
Col. Timothy J. Holtan, Commander of the Army Field Band, conducts the Concert Band during a local holiday performance in Baltimore, Md. last December. Due to budget cuts under sequestration, the Army Field Band was directed to cancel their upcoming spring tour and will now focus outreach efforts locally in the greater Baltimore and Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
This time of year, soldiers in the Army Field Band usually are busy packing their bags, shining their instruments and finalizing travel plans.

They have spent the last month practicing, getting ready for the yearly Spring Concert Tour.

This year’s destination: Southeast.

“We were ready to share our passion with others,” said Sgt. Maj. Ginger Turner, a non-commissioned officer in charge of the Concert Band. “That was before we were told to stop everything.”

Even before the March 1 sequester deadline, the Army Field Band had taken a 54 percent budget cut. But it shifted funds in order to perform some of the spring tour. On March 5, the secretary of defense curtailed the music, ordering all military bands and ceremonial units to stop travel.

The news left Turner and her colleagues saddened.

“We trained to be ready for this,” she said. “Now we are unable to provide our mission.”

The organization is in the process of cancelling 139 concerts in six states, all of them scheduled in April and May.

Under new orders, the Army Field Band now can travel only as far as 150 miles from Fort George G. Meade, it’s home base, said Jonathan Agee, Army spokesman. That distance will save money on lodging costs and a daily travel allowance for the band members.

Despite the cancellation, Agee and Turner are hopeful that Congress will find a solution soon so they can travel for the popular summer concert tour.

“We are remaining optimistic,” Agee said. “In the meantime we are working to come up with a new community engagement plan.”

On March 1, Congress implemented $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to federal programs, commonly called the sequester. Units at Fort Meade, like the band, have been gradually seeing the impact.

Next month, civilian employees who work for the garrison command will scale back their work week to four days, effectively a 20 percent pay cut. Civilian contractors working with the various units at the west county post are expected to make their own cuts.

Officials at the Naval Academy, home base for the Naval Academy band, are experiencing the same restrictions.

“I can tell you that due to the current budgetary restrictions our band has been directed by DoD to cancel performances further than 50 miles away and that all performances off-base must be approved prior to scheduling,” Naval Academy spokesperson Jennifer Erickson said in a statement Tuesday.

Agee said that for now, funding has to go to priority missions on the front line.

The cancellation affects more than the band members, Agee said. It also ripples down to the planning crew, show promoters and the fans who had planned to see the band’s performances.

“There were a lot of people excited to see us this year,” he said.

Turner was looking forward to performing for veterans across the country.

“Some of the older veterans may not be able to dance, but they sure do enjoy our music,” she said.

Agee said that before going on tour, a year is spent setting up logistics to ensure things run smoothly.

“To pull off an operation our size takes time, research and a lot of outreach,” said Agee.

The Army Field Band includes 150 soldiers. In addition to musicians, the staff includes an administration personnel, an instrument repair technician, librarians, information management personnel, producers, production managers, tour coordinators, support team members, and supply technicians.

There are also a dozen civilian support staff handling transportation, budget analysis, supply, and public relations.

When retired Army Col. Hal Gibson heard the band was going to make a performance stop in Melbourne, Fla., he got to work, helping plan for their arrival.

Working with officials at Brevard Community College, Gibson set out soliciting sponsors, giving out tickets and putting together fliers for the events. It was a familiar task for Gibson, who served for eight years as commander for the band.

“Everything was falling into place, everyone was excited they were coming,” he said. “Then I got a call.”

Gibson was learned the concert in Melbourne, which was slated to take place on April 15, was cut because of sequestration.

“I didn’t now what to think. I was disappointed. Everyone was so excited to see them,” he said.

Agee said his office is just about finished informing all the venues of the tour cancellation.

To keep performing, the band is turning to other options. They hope to hold more local performances on and around Fort Meade. March 27, the band is playing at Wildlake High School in Columbia at 7 p.m.

Organizers are also working to draw interest in holding band sessions through social media. For instance, Agee said they are considering holding educational clinics using Google Hangouts.

“We still want to have our community outreach, but we have to do it in a fiscally responsible way,” he said.

While sequestration continues, Turner said she is not giving up hope. It still remains the topic of conversation for the unit.

“It’s something you just can’t ignore, the impact is too deep,” she said.

** Story courtesy of www.mdgazette.com

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