Drop the Tuba, Pick Up a Gun: Military Bands Under Fire From Congress
Policy + Politics

Drop the Tuba, Pick Up a Gun: Military Bands Under Fire From Congress


Congressional efforts to cut the cost of military bands are being met with resistance from “Anchors Aweigh” lovers, with more than 23,000 signing a protest petition on the White House website, We the People.

The House bill would try to put a lid on the $437 million that the Pentagon spends on bands every year, according to the website Military Times, by limiting all that brass to official occasions.

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The passion military bands evoke is evident in a broadside aimed at Congress by Lt. Colonel Domingos Robinson, commander and conductor of the Eighth Army Band.

On his personal website “To the Color” (which he makes clear does not reflect official policy), Robinson writes: “…the House of Representatives, in an act of utter ignorance, voted to defund military bands for all missions except ceremonies and funerals. Yes, that actually happened. No playing for military balls. No providing entertainment at key leader engagements between U.S. and foreign leaders. No parades. No concerts on Fourth of July or any other time. No performing for deployed troops. Just ceremonies and military funerals. Apparently, that’s all we’re good for according to the House of Representatives.

“Why, you may ask? To save money,” the colonel continues. “Representative [Martha] McSally, the author of the amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that would limit the mission of military bands, seems to think that by eliminating all of these mission-sets, the military will save millions upon millions of dollars (for an Air Force weapon system that is scheduled to be retired anyways), solve world hunger, balance the budget, and erase the national debt. Okay, slight exaggeration on my part … but, based upon the fervor of Ms. McSally’s ‘arguments’ either she knows something about military bands that I don’t … or maybe she didn’t make her high school’s choir? Based on the performances you can find of her on YouTube, the fact that she calls herself a vocalist is insulting to the military musicians who have worked on their craft for years to be where they are today.”

McSally, a Republican representative from Arizona, drew attention in March for criticizing the Air Force’s desire to retire the A-10 Warthog. She cast doubt on the Air Force’s claim the personnel shortages were making it hard to keep the A-10 flying. "If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or a gun,” McSally told Congress. The new bill is aimed at providing the Air Force with every dollar possible to keep its fleet in the air, even at the cost of cutting live musical performances.

McSally may not know much about military music, but she knows a bit about wearing a uniform.

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A former Air Force colonel with 26 years in service, McSally was the first woman to fly combat missions and the first woman to command a combat squadron. She also was first in her class at the Air War College after getting a master’s degree from Harvard.

The Senate still must act on the proposed restrictions, but the petition seeking support from the president may not get his attention: Almost 80,000 more signatures are required before July 19 just to elicit a response.

Could be “Taps” for Fourth of July military music.