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Military bands form a tradition — a living tradition that continues even today. But budget tightening and fat cutting have put the Pentagon’s continued support of that tradition under a microscope. Entertainment is “just not the role of the military,” Arizona Rep. and retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally recently told the website Politico. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, she is one of several lawmakers pressuring the Pentagon to take a long hard look at its spending on military bands. And while it’s probably true that military bands should share their equal burden of cuts in an atmosphere of tightening budgets, it’s important to keep in mind the important role they play. Instead of thinking about budget cuts for military bands and simply downsizing, it would be more constructive to think of making them more efficient at what they do.
Anyone who’s deployed overseas knows that it’s easy to get sentimental about your hometown when you’ve been so far away for so long. Belleville, Illinois, where Army-issue Belleville boots are made, isn’t technically where I was born, but it’s close enough that during month 14 of an Iraq deployment I felt a very visceral connection to my home. It was as though the boots were binding me to my past, grounding me in it, and in a very real sense, providing me with strength and comfort.
In my two deployments as an infantryman to Iraq, I never had the honor of working in close proximity with a dog. There were street dogs galore in Baghdad, of course. And I’d occasionally see working dogs and their handlers stroll by on larger bases. But I never had the pleasure of actually going out on mission with one of them, to my lasting dismay.
When I went through basic and advanced individual training, or AIT, at Fort Benning in 2005, there was a subtle yet profound shift between the two phases of my training. It didn’t have to do with location — we were still occupying the same newly constructed minimalist barracks — and it didn’t have to do with rank, uniform, or pay. Simply put, our drill sergeant began referring to us as his “soldiers.” And I distinctly remember the very first moment that he did it. We were standing in formation outside of the dining facility and some other drill sergeant tried to lead his platoon in before us. “Hell no!” our drill sergeant bellowed, “My soldiers were here first.”
In 1961, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem asked the United States to help defoliate the lush jungle that was providing cover to his Communist enemies. President John Kennedy acquiesced and formally launched Operation Ranch Hand, the United States Air Force’s program of systemic defoliation with the chemical compound Agent Orange. So many years later, we’re still coming to grips with the devastating effects of Agent Orange on troops and civilians alike. Decades of the government dragging its feet on dealing with the Agent Orange issue in any comprehensive way has delayed a full reckoning. New information about diseases caused by the defoliant trickle in year by year while clean-up efforts continue in Vietnam itself. The entire Agent Orange saga provides a casebook study in how not to deal with the health and environmental fallout of combat.
Digital gaming sales hit a record $61 billion dollars in revenue worldwide in 2015. Compare that milestone with the global music industry, which set its own record by dropping below $15 billion in sales for the first time in decades. Or the absolutely revolting statistic that only 70% of Americans have read a single book (not even in its entirety, just picked up and skimmed and then put back down) in the past year. Anyone who refuses to admit that we’re living in a shared media environment that’s dominated by gaming and the Internet is probably being willfully obstinate.