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Just in: US to scrap an Air Force band

One of our readers, Paul Sullivan, has spotted that the USAF Band of Liberty is on its final round of performances before it is ‘disbanded this spring as the result of budget cuts’.

Liberty is one of several USAF bands around the land. Based at Hanscom Air Force base it will be merged with the music program at Langley AF Base in Virginia. Its last performance is March 10 at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall.

Hail to the Chief…


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  1. Everything human………..


  2. Peter Metrinko says:

    There are more than “several” Air Force bands. This article describes the numbers for all the services. Wikipedia says the Air Force has 25 separate bands.

    According to this article, the US military spends $500 million annually on military bands. The Salon article also notes that the US military has 234 gold courses.

    Note: If I were king, I would turn the bullets into musical instruments.

    • David S. Naden says:


      The USAF–at present–has 12 Air Force Bands (active duty…not Air Guard), including the USAF Band and the USAF Academy Band. What this article claims, is that the number is higher because of the SUB-GROUPS (small ensembles) that are formed within each band. For example: The article discusses the USAF Academy Band of having a 60 piece marching band, a 45 piece concert band, ETC. What the article FAILS to mention, is that the 45 piece concert band is 75% of the Marching Band personnel. ALL of small ensembles are formed from within the full-complement of personnel. Thant means that personnel serve in multiple groups.

      A clarinetist would perform in the marching band, the concert band, and possible a wind quintet or clarinet quartet. A trumpet player would perform in the marching band, the concert band or jazz band–unless the jazz band is part of the concert band–and possible a brass quintet or herald trumpets group, and that does not include performing TAPS or other bugle call presentations as necessary.

      What the article also fails to mention is that ALL personnel are assigned additional collateral duties to support the unit…from loading and unloading band equipment to/from trucks to administrative functions, such as arranging performance locations, maintaining schedules, supply functions, and publicity functions. These additional duties make Air Force Bands fully independent operational units as possible, without the need for outside support.

      • Carl Weatherford says:

        Wow David, you are right. Since those units are all independent operational units we should continue to spend 320 million/year on them. I am glad they can unload/load their trucks, schedule their own shows, or go to publicity functions but the reality of the situation is that we are an Air Force. The AF spending ANY money on these shows, regardless of how good of musicians they are, is a colossal waste of money. With even a fraction of 320 million we can support a fighter squadron for a year or upgrade our aging aircraft.
        Instead we pay for a dozen Air Force bands to “entertain”. Yes, there is a use for an extremely limited amount of musicians and they should be saved for memorials and made up of reservists or volunteers. Other then that, scrap the whole bunch and stop paying for them to travel around the world spending our precious flying hours. They are NOT the mission.

        • David S. Naden says:

          And yet YOU Carl, would sanction keeping demonstration squadrons like the Thuderbirds, Blue Angels, etc. that only “entertain” at air shows, Tops in Blue, which take personnel OUT of their normal duty assignments to entertain, etc. What planet are you from. Better question: Have YOU EVER served in the military? if NOT, you are in NO position to judge the value of ANY mission in the armed forces. We can disagree on what is an appropriate budget…but do NOT denegrate ANY duty assignment until you have been there.

  3. It is too bad that music is taking a hit- even if it is military music- but the reality is that the country is being forced to live within its means, at least as it relates to something so bloated as its military budget. Otherwise, more critical safety net programs could see the knife. Similarly, for music in the schools, that is a different matter, given the huge educational benefits of such programs.

  4. Previous to this round of DOD cuts there were three military bands in Massachusetts, AF Band of Liberty (Hanscom AFB), Air National Guard Band of the Northeast (JFHQ-Milford, MA) and the 215th Army Band (Fall River, MA). The Army Band is the lone survivor of this round of cuts, though they’ve been hit with severe budget cuts, esp. with the sequester.

  5. David S. Naden says:

    The reduction of Air Force Bands is nothing new. When I served in the 661st Air Force Band (aka The Air Force Band of Flight) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, there were 20 bands, including the USAF Band and the Air Force Academy Band (both special bands). Due to budget cuts in the early 1990s, the number of bands was reduced to 12, and musicians in de-activated bands assigned to other units. Now, there will be another round of reductions in the number of Air Force Bands to accommodate new budget cuts.

    The band at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia is located close enough to the northeast United States to expand its area of operations. In addition, the Air Force Band of Flight can expand its area of operations to include some of the east as well. The USAF Band in Washington D.C. is also positioned to provide support as their schedule permits. For over 15 years, the fundamental question has been how many bands are needed to support Air Force ceremonial, recruiting, and community relations support throughout the continental United States–excluding the special bands (USAF Academy Band and USAF Band)? One solution has always been to have fewer–but larger–regional bands of approximately 100 musicians each (when I served, bands had authorized manning of 35, 45 or 60 musicians depending on the band). While the total number of personnel would increase per band, the number of support and command staff could be reduced–as well as the total operating budgets.

    Is the reduction of Air Force Bands a good idea. From a musicians standpoint, it is not…there are already limited opportunities for professional musicians. However, the reality is that Air Force bands–and military bands in general–are NOT mission essential, and when the budget axe falls, it is NON-essential functions that are reduced or eliminated.

  6. Roberto Gonzalez says:

    YES! The dumbass Republicons in the Congress will keep cutting the budget, because they don’t want to raise taxes on the rich pigs who have stolen the US economy from the common folk. So it goes with conservatives in the USA….

    • David S. Naden says:

      [First sentence redacted] If there was a flat tax of, let’s say 20%, and there was a single deduction of $25,000 per person, someone making $100,000 per year would pay a 20% tax on $75,000. If a person made $25,000 or less, the tax would be $0. If someone make $$225,000, that person would pay 20% of $200,000. In short, the more you make, the more you pay in actual dollars at 20%. But most everyone calls this a regressive tax, and will not support the concept. On the other hand, when individuals pay their share based on the regular rates with deductions, or the capital gains tax, everyone bitches and complains that the “rich” do not pay their share. Even when the “rich” pay more based on dollars, people bitch because the percentage is too low, or they bitch because the dollars are too low.

      You can NOT have it both ways. Either taxes will be paid based on a percentage after ALL deductions, or will be paid in actual dollars based on a flat percentage for all. I for one believe that a flat tax with a single deduction is the best way to level the playing field.

  7. In USA is not enough trumpet players for military funerals. Esfir Ross

  8. Stephen says:

    One of the things these bands were doing was to bring the face of the military to the communities. It was good PR for the military and good outreach to culturally underserved communities.

    Ironic that the conversations I’ve heard about how the military engages with the civilian is that the disconnect needs to be bridged in as many ways as possible. The nice thing about regional bands were that they were of the area and so the feeling was one of locality.

    Too bad, that not only is there a disconnect between the military and the civilian but there seems also to be a disconnect between the military and the military overseers.

    A fair question might be, what is the cost of a military band as weighed against a military weapon. Don’t just consider the money.

  9. David Boxwell says:

    2011: total funding of all US military bands: $320 million.

    2011: total funding of all programs in National Endowment for the Arts: $154 million.

    • Very salient statistic.

      • David S. Naden says:

        This is NOT a relevant statistic. Military bands are part of the larger funding for the armed forces, and each unit within the military has an individual budget. The NEA is a separate organization that promotes arts programs in the United States.

        What is forgotten is that ALL personnel assigned to military bands–with the exception of the service bands in Washington D.C.–all have secondary military responsibilities. If needed in a combat theater of operations, personnel in army, marine and navy bands are soldiers and sailors first. It is similar in the Air Force, but that rarely–if ever–happens.

        Bottom line is do NOT mix apples and oranges…it just confuses the issues.

    • Do you have a reference for the 320 million spent on military bands? I had read a while back that the amount was 170 million. That’s still more than the entire NEA budget, and at least five times what the NEA spends on music. Please let us know.

      • David Boxwell says:

        Dave Gilson’s report “March Madness: a Brief History of Military Bands.” Mother Jones, Sep/Oct 2011. (on line, too).

        • Based on interviews with the military, the Washington Post puts the number spent on military bands at $500,000,000. Half a billion dollars. That’s about 16 times the estimated 30 million the NEA spends on music of all sorts. The Army notes that it employs 5000 musicians, and is the largest employer of musicians in the country. Based on the military’s pay and benefits, that many musicians could supply 50 fulltime, year-round orchestras with 100 members each with full benefits. Add to that all the bands in the other branches of the military.

          For more details see:

  10. Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:

    Well, all comments aside I’m very much looking forward to their concert this Tuesday, 5 March, at NEC’s Jordan Hall along with the NEC’s Symphonic Winds. Looks like a fun program, and it’s free!

  11. Jimmy Bone says:

    Military missions are not driven by restructuring or budget concerns. If flying units are somehow cut by 25%, the USAF is not suddenly responsible for only 75% of its original flying mission. The remaining units are simply stretched thinner, by necessity.
    Cutting the Band of Liberty at Hanscom AFB leaves a large geographic “gap” that the Heritage of America Band at Langley AFB (Virginia) must now attempt to cover. The Air Force mission for its band program has not changed. It just has to get done with more limited resources.
    Additionally, the Band of the Reserve at Robins AFB (Georgia… an Air Force Band with a Reserve component mission staffed by Active Duty Airmen-musicians) is being deactivated. In addition to its world-wide Reserve mission, another CONUS geographic gap has been created that must be covered, significantly by the Heritage of America Band.
    Also, the Band of Flight at Wright-Patterson AFB (Ohio) is being reduced from a 45-member unit to 15, and its geographic responsibility is shrinking to covering only Ohio. That gap must also be covered, a significant portion by the Heritage of America Band.
    From a manning standpoint, in the eastern US, the Air Force bands will be losing two, 45 member units, and will lose 30 members from another. The Heritage of America Band will indeed be bigger… it will go from 45 to 60 members.
    Essentially, these cuts have made it near impossible to maintain the current mission the Air Force has for its bands. One unit of 60 members will have to cover a geographic region from South Carolina to Maine, all the eastern seaboard between, and stretching west through West Virginia and Pennsylvania, while being present in Georgia and New York, as well as the rest of New England.
    The Heritage of America Band, like all the other 10 CONUS (soon to be 8) bands, also has a deployment mission. 8- 12 Airmen are tasked for deployments on rotating, overlapping schedules between the bands. These Airmen are not additional manning, they are drawn from the current Enlisted (and Officers) of the tasked unit, and their absence is significant.
    To be able to attempt to cover these kind of mission spaces, the unit will most likely break down into as many small groups as are sustainable. The full, traditional military concert band will likely perform concerts very local to Langley AFB, and only twice a year at that (winter holiday season and Independence Day concerts).
    The following from:
    (The information is current, but does not reflect the coming changes)
    Air Force bands’ objectives:
    -Enhance airman morale, esprit de corps, and retention.
    -Inspire patriotism, support Air Force recruiting, and encourage young men and women to serve in the military.
    -Increase public awareness and understanding of the armed forces and the mission, policies, and programs of the Air Force, enhancing public trust and support.
    -Strengthen the reputation of the Air Force as a good neighbor, a respected professional organization charged with part of the responsibility for national security.

    • David S. Naden says:

      The following information was provided to me by a friend, former band-mate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the current Director of Operations for the Air Force Band of Flight:

      Bands and Hanscom and Robbins Air Force Bases (Band of Liberty and Band of the Air Force Reserve) being completely deactivated.

      Element of PacAF Band at Elmendorf Air Force Base being deactivated, and personnel being reassigned to band element at Yokota AB, Japan.

      Bands at Offutt and Wright=Patterson Air Force Bases being reduced in personnel from 45 to 15 (both locations).

      Several Air National Guard bands–including the band in Toledo, Ohio–being deactivated.

      These are only changes to the Air Force Band Program. There will be cuts to bands in the other services, but I do NOT have access to that information.

  12. David S. Naden says:

    This is a sad day for military bands, but especially bands in the United States Air Force. The Air Force Band of Flight is one of the oldest Air Force bands, with continuous service since its founding in the 1940s. This band was the command band for the Air Force Logistics Command, now using its original name–the Air Force Material Command. This band was responsible for a seven state regional area, and with the reduction of personnel from 60 to 45, and now to 15, will only be able to cover very limited performances in Ohio.

    During my service with the band (1984-1989), the band was awarded two (2) Outstanding Unit Awards, and since I left the Air Force, at least one (1) organizational Excellence Award. This continued downsizing of one of the most important bands in United States Air Force history is a sad commentary on the current state of affairs, and how decisions are made about which bands to maintain, downsize or deactivate.

  13. Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:

    Attended the second to last performance of the USAF Band of Liberty at Jordan Hall on March 5th, 2013. They were accompanied by talented students of the MEC’s symphonic winds. The concert covered everything from Shostakovitch and Holst to Dave Bruebeck, John Williams, Gershwin, Nat King Cole and “Wicked” and a few encores. The playing of both the Band of Liberty and students was superb.
    Sadder than the fact that the band was being disbanded, was that only about 120 people attended and I’m guessing those were friends of the band and students. NEC performs many, many free concerts at Jordan Hall, yet I rarely see more than a handful of people attending.

  14. Elizabeth T. Augustine says:

    Looks like the King’s men can’t put things back into perspective again. We talk about budget cuts in this country, about how not to tax those with higher incomes than the rest of us who are working poor and/or poorest – yet, we are now a nation which is on the brink of losing one of its most valuable assets – USAF Bands. And what about the musicians who will have to adjust to being downsized, in effect being devalued, once again.
    I chose to take an “early out ” and didn’t relocate to Hanscom when given the chance, when the band at Mc Guire AFB was slashed and terminated in 1991. Sometimes, I regret leaving, yet my musical career continued in civilian life and those experiences, though some fiery, have shaped my confidence and creativity today.
    The music, the concerts, our creative resource of patriotism is being depleted and the citizens of these United
    States are the ones who lose.
    Too bad we can’t deactivate congress!

  15. Actually, Reiner, I think it was Clemenceau, though Groucho was the better poster boy.

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