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Touring with the 562nd Air National Guard Band of the Southwest, a Personal Encounter

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nicholas Carzis
  • 146th Airlift Wing

A day in the life of a Band Groupie
Being a photographer in the Air National Guard has brought me to a lot of interesting places, full of interesting people. It's a great privilege that my AFSC allows me to see the Air Guard in its different functions, missions, and diversity. Just recently I was tasked to cover a couple of events that the 562nd Air National Guard Band of the Southwest was performing. Like everything else I photograph for the first time, I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I was excited to see a new function of the Air Guard I have never experienced covering before.
The 562nd Air National Guard Band of the Southwest was just starting their two weeks of annual training in Southern California, which consisted of two bands that included the 561st band (originally the Air National Guard Band of the West) from Moffett Air Force Base and of course the 562nd Band located here in Port Hueneme.

The Oceanview Pavilion
The Oceanview Pavilion performing arts center located in Port Hueneme was the first venue where I would cover the band in its entirety. Upon walking to the venue I could see a line of anxious fans waiting in line to see the performance. The Dixieland Tailgaters, a Dixieland Jazz group from the 562nd, played to the people waiting in line to help pass the time before they entered the main venue.
Crowds of curious onlookers began to gather and I began to feel that sense of excitement that one gets when attending a music festival. Amidst the smiling faces and enthusiastic applause it was clear that the 562nd has a loyal following and has for some time, and it had seemed that all their followers had showed up.

It didn't really become apparent to me until the end of the Tailgaters' set, just how many people where there. The line stretched for at least 100 yards. When the front doors finally opened the crowd rushed in to find a good seat, and we could see the stage full of concert musical instruments and equipment. The lights began to dim and the crowd burst with applause.

As the 28-member concert band began to play I was amazed at the wide variety of music they performed. A rendition of Frank Sinatra's "Witchcraft" cemented my opinions this group's exceptional talent. The crowd liked what they were hearing, this was obvious. But also noted was a strong sense of patriotism and support for the military. In between songs time was taken to remind people of the men and women serving throughout the world in the armed services, defending their country in war zones everywhere.

It was during these moments where I realized how lucky the band is, being able to spread that message with music, and doing what they love to do best. That is their mission, getting the message out of what the Air National Guard is and what we do, and to show people that we are Citizen Soldiers and Airmen doing our part. The band did it well.

At the end of the performance, something truly special took place. Master Sgt. Erin McPherson was introduced as a member of the 146th Airlift Wing and a singer/performer for the band. She was given the opportunity to sing "America the Beautiful." But what made this performance particularly special and beautiful was the fact that Master Sgt. McPherson had that very same day just returned from a 5-month deployment from Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. Instead of taking some much earned leave, she decided to join her band mates and perform. The audience gushed gasps and whispers of amazement, followed by a burst of loud applause, whistles, and excitement. I could feel the sincerity and appreciation in the auditorium from the crowd, and I'm pretty sure Master Sgt. McPherson could too.

Half-way through her performance, the crowd rose to their feet waiving miniature American flags in the air and singing along the words they knew. As I looked around I could see how effective the message was in reaching out to people through the music played that day. I had to ask Erin how it felt to be onstage again, to hit the ground running, putting her service as a performer and member of the band before herself.

"To be able to do that getting back from a deployment, with the band that I love, felt so heartfelt, and made me feel that's where I belonged," said McPherson. "To me being able to tell the story of my deployment with everyone at the show was a way to connect with the band and celebrate to play music again."

On to Disneyland
With one concert finished, this was just the start of the tour for the band. Disneyland awaited the next day, no breaks, no excuses. This was the first year that the band worked under a new structure that allowed them to deploy more than one group at a time in order to expand their area of responsibility, known as an AOR.

At 0700 I was I was waiting in a van outside the hotel, waiting to hit the road. Traveling with a crew of eight plus myself we drove to Anaheim, where two performing groups from the 562nd would play music for the crowds at Disneyland in honor of the fourth of July week.

Beyond that first stage of curiosity with the theme park itself, seeing the back lots and behind the scenes of Disneyland, I could see all the hard work that was going on. People moving with a sense of urgency, equipment loading back and forth, and overall understanding there was no time to sit around. Everyone was doing something. It was no different with the band than with any of our other unit's missions. The moment we stepped on the pavement back stage, there was a place, time, and combined effort being made to make sure that the demanding schedule flowed like clockwork.

The sun began to peek through the clouds about around the time of the first Dixieland Tailgaters performance. By then it was already 93 degrees. The Tailgaters jumped on stage and engaged the crowd while children visiting the park got the chance to participate by playing along with the band with a washboard instrument in true Dixieland fashion. The band's performance inside the New Orleans section of the Disneyland theme park drew many people. In between songs their Air National Guard messages to people about our mission was heard once again and met with strong applause. What better place to tell the story of the Air National Guard than "the happiest place on earth," right?

After the Tailgaters set they broke down the equipment and it was off to the other side of the park. A short lunch, and back to preparation for the next set. With all the hustle and bustle going on around us it felt like a blink of an eye, and they were back to setting up for the next show at California Adventure.

Traveling the back lots of Disney as an adult is an interesting experience, I can only imagine how much physiological damage could be inflicted on a younger enthusiastic Disney fan should they ever see the secret world from behind the scenes. For the band it was just another shortcut from point A to point B. Tunnels, back roads, secret doors, setting up equipment backstage with vendors and dealing with the 97 degree day as best they could. The funny thing is I never heard one of them complain, not even once.

Evening was soon upon us and the band had just finished setting up for their last performance. Their performance group Global Strike, a rock music group consisting of the same members of the Dixieland Tailgaters, took the colorfully lit stage for a sound check. The look of curiosity could be read on the faces of on-lookers and those passing by as they watched eight very professional looking musicians in their dress blues fine-tune their instruments and perform the sound check.

As the group is introduced and the music began, crowds immediately began to circle, and people began to dance in front of the stage. Global Strike is rocking out and it sounds good, really good. Of course yours truly was shooting and documenting all of this as it went on, but I was able to take note that one performance that night stood out as my favorite -Global Strike's rendition of Stevie Wonder's "I wish". I am perfectly fine with stating that they nailed it.

With the show now over, and the 15-hour work day coming to an end, we began to tear down equipment and get ready for the two-hour drive back into Ventura County. It was at this moment that I realized something about this group of performers. I have to pause the story for just a moment to connect with you on something that I have realized while serving my short five years here at the 146th Airlift Wing. Many people observe AFSCs and career fields without actually experiencing the career close up. They watch on and begin to have the wild notion that their job is perhaps somewhat easy; that they are having all the fun, while little effort is exerted.

Personally I would like to correct any of those unfortunate assumptions here and now. It is their job to make what they do look easy; and while, yes, they are having fun doing what they love, it is not easy.
There are few career fields like what the band demands from its performers. The hours are long, much longer than even I expected, because their performances are rehearsed and practiced to precision. The time and effort dedicated to this group are mandatory and to most might seem above and beyond the normal expectations of a functioning unit. This is expected and demanded of you should you want to perform; many people are behind the scenes during preparation and yet most will never see all the hard work that goes into the event unless they are preforming with the band themselves.

It is VERY hard work, but the reward is more than obvious for them. Their dedication is nothing short of spectacular; their precision to their craft is something all can admire. But you can expect nothing less from this group and we should all be very proud of the image they put forth for all of us serving in today's military, and especially for all of us here at the 146th Airlift Wing.

After loading the equipment back into all the vehicles we embarked on our trip home back to Ventura County. The whole time on the ride home I thought about the busy week the band was going to have, and their entire spread of performances they would soon take.

Senior Master Sgt. Scott McPherson spoke to me about the remainder of the shows they still had left, and he said something that stuck with me. "We work before everyone has their fun, while they're having it, and after they are done," he said.

It reminded me of events I had help set up in the past for Outstanding Airman of the Year Banquet and various other events I had helped set up before. It was an interesting moment because I felt a stronger understanding of what kind of work the band really does for everyone.

The show goes on
In the second week of the tour the band performed 11 shows in seven days. The bands performing groups included a 28- member concert band, a 22-member jazz band-Patriots in Blue, a 12-member Latin rock group-Fuego Azul, the eight-member Dixieland Tailgaters and Global Strike rock band, and a sax quintet known as the Golden Tones.

I later spoke after their tour again with Senior Master Sgt. Scott McPherson and some of the challenges that were met. He said the band had been forced to make many last minutes adjustments but adapted quite well. Of course they had a little help along the way.

"I don't think we would have been able to complete the band's mission had it not been for the support of Lt. Col. Brian Kelly, our vice- wing commander, and especially TMO's Tech. Sgt. Jose Mosquera," said McPherson.

I then learned that originally the band was scheduled to do two weeks' worth of shows in the Utah area that had to be cancelled because of the sequester. Starting fiscal year 2014 the band's coverage responsibility will be for seven states, including Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Montana.

"Despite facing the sequester the band was able to reschedule its annual training and get the message of the Air National Guard out to over 50,000 civilians," said McPherson. "There were 30,000 people in Santa Barbara for the fourth of July that were in attendance at Sparkle Beach. Most of the venues played were holding over 600-1000 in attendance."

The number of people who see and enjoy our band every year highlights how important they are, and the importance of the image and message send at each and every show they perform. Their message is our message, and they share it magnificently wherever they go through their music.