By Walter Pincus
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; A19
The U.S. Army is spending $4.4 million to construct a new home for the 40-member Army Materiel Command Band, which is moving from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, Ala., as part of the Pentagon base realignment and closure program.
The 16,000-square-foot brick building, to be completed in January, will include a large rehearsal room, individual practice rooms, a music library, uniform locker rooms, band administration offices and an instrument storage, cleaning and repair shop.
At the groundbreaking ceremony in January, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Frederick Ellwein, the band's outgoing director, said the facility's purpose is "to train and maintain a band so they can inspire, entertain and tell the Army story like no other organization and do this around the globe."
"There's a current force design update for Army bands that will likely increase the size of the AMC Band," Ellwein said. "That's to be determined. It will likely be (year) 2015 is my understanding at this point."
Meanwhile, he said, the new headquarters will show "the way ahead for Army bands well into the future with a state-of-the-art facility for band training."
Although this is the third column I have written in four weeks on this subject, I carry no antagonism toward military bands. In fact, as I have responded to those who have questioned my columns, I have a great deal of respect for the bands, have attended many concerts and even remember one when I was in the Army. There is also no doubt that the groups going overseas in war areas aid morale.
But after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates began making the point about priorities, comparing the number of military musicians to the number of State Department Foreign Service officers, I decided to look at the spending aspects. When we are asking the Defense Department and nonmilitary agencies and departments to cut needed services, leaving the bands to march on their merry way sets a bad example.
At least one senior Defense Department official apparently feels the same way. Last week, he called my attention to the Army Materiel Command band building at Huntsville. Asking that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak on the issue, he noted, "AMC is not a traditional Army unit but instead is a 'headquarters' element, and the vast majority of personnel are civilians, not military, and the military that are part of AMC are senior officers, not enlisted."
He closed by saying, "Believe me, a HUGE waste of tax dollars and it would be interesting to see the Army's spin on that expenditure when the Secretary is trying to reign in excesses."
AMC is "the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness - technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment - to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it," according to the command Web site.
Headquartered up to now at Fort Belvoir, it has units in 49 states and 127 countries, with 67,000 civilian employees, 47,000 contractors and fewer than 5,000 military officers and enlisted personnel.
The AMC Band came into existence four years ago. Its roots go back before the 1930s to a cavalry band, which, when moved to Fort Monmouth, N.J., was inactivated. In 1930, its members became the beginning of the Signal Corps Band. When that band was inactivated during World War II, the 389th Army Band was formed from its personnel and was used to raise war bonds. Relocated to Aberdeen Proving Ground, the 389th became the AMC Band in 2006, a year after the Materiel Command was selected to relocate to Huntsville.
The band performs as a concert or marching band with smaller elements that split off as a brass quintet, woodwind quintet, jazz combo, rock band and a ceremonial band of 18 performers. In recent years, the AMC Band has played for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Its next two engagements, according to its Web site, are a performance of its brass ensemble at a 6 a.m. harvest prayer breakfast in Maryland on Thursday and a 3 p.m. concert on Dec. 5 in which the full band will perform at a University of Alabama in Huntsville venue to be determined.
Often in the past, Ellwein told the January audience, "Army bands have been ordered in obsolete or unoccupied hangars, mess halls, warehouses, NCO clubs and maintenance shops converted for the use of course, and bands made the best use of them."
No more of that for the AMC Band. The band's new director, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Peter Gillies, who moved to Redstone in August to supervise construction, said in May that the Materiel Command "has made sure that the band has a world-class facility to move into, and the city of Huntsville is eagerly awaiting the band's arrival."
About 20 members of the band are to move to Alabama in November, and Gillies told the Huntsville Times this year that some of them are also involved in other musical outlets in town, such as the University of Alabama in Huntsville's jazz band.