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Bandsman Marching in Inaugural Parade Recalls Security Duty

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2005 – When a Marine Corps bandsman ventures into the fog of war, he puts his musical instrument aside and picks up the instrument of a Marine a rifle, machine gun or some other weaponry.

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"The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band assistant drum major Gunnery Sgt. William P. Kanteres II spent time on the battlefields of Iraq as a heavy machine gun section leader. Marine Corps photo

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That's what saxophonist and drum major Gunnery Sgt. William P. Kanteres II, 29, did when his outfit went to Kuwait in February 2003 preparing for the attack on Iraq. He turned in his saxophone and drum major baton and became a heavy machine gun section leader with the band section of the 1st Marine Division.

"Marine bandsmen's primary day-to-day job is to play music, but they have a secondary mission of providing some sort of security role on the battlefield," said Kanteres, assistant drum major for the U.S. Marine Band, as he instructed "The President's Own" in a field drill held in preparation for the Jan. 20 inaugural parade. "For instance, when I was at Camp Pendleton (Calif.), I was with the 1st Marine Division Band, and our job was perimeter security for the command operating center. So when the division deployed, we assumed the positions as a heavy machine gun platoon."

He said life for Marine bandsmen on the battlefield gets pretty basic, because there are not a lot of distractions. "You're not thinking about the end of your work day or an appointment you have," Kanteres said. "Your mind is constantly set on the single thing around you your Marines and whatever objective you have as far as taking care of your job. So it's amazing how well Marines do their jobs when everybody is just 100 percent not distracted about anything.

"We were bandsmen and we did other training, but our expertise was music," he continued. "So to go out there and see the Marines perform so well with the little training we had was the best part. We went out there and we did as well as we should have."

Kanteres said the nights were long and intimidating for a bandsman on the front line. "It was scary not being able to see what was going on," he said. "It was springtime, but the weather was rough, because it was very windy and cold at night."

His unit was never attacked, nor did the unit attack the enemy, Kanteres noted. "We were a defensive perimeter, and our job was to keep the command operating center safe," he said. "Fortunately for us, we never had to engage the enemy. But whenever the center had to pick up and move, we'd moved with them and be their convoy security as well."

Kanteres pointed out that, every year, all Marines have to go through qualification training for the rifle, machine gun and other weapons they'd use in battle. "After Sept. 11, it was obvious that we were going to spend some time deploying," he noted. "So we made time in our schedule to do things like going to heavy machine gun school where we got competent with the weapons we'd be using. We also learned tactics for convoy security."

After American forces took Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, the bandsmen returned to being bandsmen. They set their rifles and machine guns aside, picked up their musical instruments and started playing music again.

"We were relieved from our security duties and were able to get our instruments brought to us from Kuwait," Kanteres said. "We played about eight morale concerts traveling as far as two hours from our camp all the way to the ancient city of Babylon -- while the Marines waited to be relieved by the Army."

Returning the United States in June 2003, Kanteres has since become the assistant drum major for "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Corps Band here. He'll march with the Marine command unit during the presidential inaugural parade.

The former saxophonist at Manchester (N.H.) High School played sax in the fleet for about eight years before pursuing the drum major business. "In about November 2001 is when I officially became a drum major," said Kanteres, who joined the Marines shortly after high school in 1993. "In order to continue moving up in the world, you need to find other strengths where you can contribute to the organization more. The drum major's job in the field band is very much a logistical responsibility. I also enjoyed leading the band during marches and teaching marching moves. It was the next evolution for me me growing in the Marine music program."

In addition to sharing responsibilities with the drum major, Kanteres instructs new band members on how to become Marines and bandsmen. "Members of the Marine Band don't go through recruit training; they're noncombatants," he noted. "So the Marine Corps doesn't send them to learn combat training things they're never going to use as musicians. So when they get here, they need to learn customs and courtesies, uniform regulations, Marine Crops history, chain of command and other things Marines need to know. All the educational things we'd teach young Marines in recruit training I try to instill in them here."

Kanteres has achieved what he set out to do as a Marine Corps musician. "When I was a younger Marine, my goals were to make gunnery sergeant and to be a drum major," said Kanteres, who became interested in music at the age of 12. "I've reached those, and I'm at a point now where I'm just enjoying that. My next goal is retirement. Whatever else comes to me is going to be great."

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Related Sites:
U.S. Marine Band
DoD Special Report on the 55th Presidential Inauguration

Click photo for screen-resolution imageGunnery Sgt. William P. Kanteres II, assistant drum major for the U.S. Marine Band, instructs the musicians of "The President's Own" in a field drill held in preparation for the Jan. 20 inaugural parade. Marine Corps photo  
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