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Navy Band Could Be Restricted to Military Events

U.S. Navy photo
U.S. Navy photo

BANGOR -- An amendment to the House of Representatives' 2017 defense appropriations act would restrict where military bands can perform.

The Department of Defense supports 137 bands with 6,500 musicians at an annual cost of $437 million, said spokesman Mark Wright. Among them is 35-member Navy Band Northwest.

The amendment's sponsors -- Martha McSally, R-Arizona, a former Air Force colonel; Steve Pearce, R-New Mexico, a former Air Force captain; and Betty McCollom, D-Minnesota -- believe defense dollars could be better spent.

Their measure would ban bands from playing at social events outside of their official duties. It passed by voice vote on June 16. The question now is whether it will remain in the final bill that'll be hashed out with the Senate.

In a letter asking colleagues to support the amendment, McSally said it "will ensure military bands perform their proper duties and limit their performances to official ceremonies, honoring the fallen, and playing taps."

She said every dollar spent on military bands to entertain at social functions is a dollar that's not being spent on national security, the troops and their families.

Military bands already have been declining. The Navy, for example, cut 100 musicians over the past decade, including its entire Mid-South and New Orleans bands in 2015. Navy Band Northwest is now one of nine.

Based at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, it features a full band that breaks into smaller rock, jazz, brass and woodwind groups. They play all over the 12-state Northwest region, with many performances in Kitsap County. In the first half of this year, they played about 40 public shows. Combined with military-only events, they perform upwards of 350 times a year, said Senior Chief Roy Brown, the band's assistant director.

The band's mission is to inspire patriotism, elevate esprit de corps, and enhance retention and pride while enhancing Navy awareness and public relations. It also aims to preserve the nation's musical heritage and project a positive Navy image.

Brown wouldn't get caught up in the debate whether the mission could be met without public performances.

"I have no comment on my personal opinion," he said. "I will follow whatever directive is issued from Fleet Band Activities.

"I'm just enjoying what I'm doing up here, supporting the local community as well as the service men and women. It's always an honor to serve our country and it's a real pleasure to do it with music."

The band's rock group "Passages" will be playing at 7 p.m. Sunday at Kingston's Mike Wallace Park before the fireworks display.

The House bill also requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a wholesale review of the cost and size of military bands, due by February, and directs Defense Secretary Ash Carter to take a detailed inventory of military bands, study the feasibility of combining some and report back by Dec. 1.

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