I enlisted in 1989 after an audition with the 312th Army Reserve Band in Lawrence, KS. I was attending Emporia State University at the time. Aside from the opportunity to serve my country, the Army offered student loan repayment and something in the way of a monthly income while I was in school under the G.I. Bill
One of my fondest memories happened in the first couple of days of basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The drill sergeants were dividing the men up into companies. They directed combat engineers, truck drivers, etc each into their own companies, and I was left standing with two other guys. One of the drills walked up to me and asked me if I "was dense", and why I wasn't in one of the companies. I told him my MOS (military occupational specialty) had not been called yet. "What is your MOS private?", he bellowed. I replied, "I'm an 02 November, Sergeant". "What in God's name is an 02 November?", he yelled. I replied, not quite as loudly, "Piano Player, sergeant!" He turned to the formed up companies, basically an entire battalion, and said "Battalion, say Whooooo Wheeeee", and of course, they did. Needless to say I was embarrassed. Oh, and the other two guys, well, they were both trombone players.
It is interesting to note that musicians are required to attend and graduate from the same basic combat training as infantry, engineers, truck drivers, etc. Needless to say, when I graduated from basic, I was one dangerous pianist, with a whole new subset of skills like shooting the M-16 rifle, the M-60 machine gun, the LAW rocket, as well as all types of hand grenades, claymore mines, even the big .50 caliber machine gun.
My time with the band was short, about 2 years, before I moved on to a Military Intelligence unit. I actually played more double bass than piano. Perhaps my favorite event as a member of the Army band came in October of 1990, when I boarded President/General Eisenhower's staff train in Lawrence, KS and rode it to Abilene, KS to play with the Army Band at the Eisenhower Centennial. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity, to be able to ride on a perfectly kept train from the 1940's. You could cut the nostalgia with a knife, and to think that Ike himself had walked those aisles! Wow!
This Veteran's Day, I'd like to say thank you to all my brothers in arms who have served and are serving their country, and may God bless America!
David James teaches piano and bass lessons at his studio in Wichita, KS .... aptly named the David James Piano and Bass Studio. "Like" his studio page on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, check out his website at www.djpianobass.com.