Military bands may feel the pinch in budget battles


(Clay Jackson/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Even as there’s a clamor to find savings in the Pentagon’s $530 billion budget for fiscal 2012, there’s also opposition to any reduction in the spending on the bands, which, over the years, have played their way into the hearts of many members of Congress.

The House is set to take up a proposal from the Appropriations Committee that would limit band funding to $200 million. But already Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.) has joined with his co-chairman in the Army Caucus on Capitol Hill, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), to protest.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter, the two described the reduction as “highly detrimental to our armed forces,” saying the bands “uphold pride and morale through music at funerals, welcome home celebrations, concerts, ceremonies and other esprit-de-corps events.”

The letter didn’t mention the recordings the bands make, often in their own studios, and distribute free, because they can’t by law sell them.

The main service bands are well known here in Washington. The U.S. Marine Corps Band, “the President’s Own,” plays at White House functions. But there’s also the U.S. Army Band, the U.S. Air Force Band and the U.S. Navy Band. The Coast Guard has a band but it now also represents its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, according to its Web site.

Each service band also has smaller instrumental and singing groups, such as the Marine’s Chamber Orchestra, the Army’s Singing Sergeants, the Navy’s Sea Chanters, the Air Force Strings, and the Coast Guard’s Brass Quintet and Saxophone Quartet.

Although most of the main service bands also have bands that are stationed overseas, the Washington-based bands often travel overseas. For example, the U.S. Air Force Band went to Japan last summer, even though there already is a unit of the USAF Band of the Pacific stationed in Japan. Even the Coast Guard Band goes overseas; this month it is to appear in Taiwan.

Beyond Washington, however, military bands are spread throughout commands. The Army, for example, has prided itself as the largest employer of musicians in the country, with some 4,000 members at one point in regional bands across the country, along with those in the National Guard and the Reserves.

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

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