Infantry Band Rocks USS Decatur
By Army Spc. Darryl L. Montgomery
Special to American Forces Press Service
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, Sept. 2, 2009 For what many believe to be the first time in history, an Army band performed on a Navy destroyer in the Persian Gulf last week.
With the sun setting behind the Basra, Iraq, oil terminal in the background, the Minnesota Army National Guard's 34th Infantry Division band Center Mass performed a live show for sailors aboard the USS Decatur while the ship continued to circle the terminal and provide security in the Persian Gulf, Aug. 26, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Darryl L. Montgomery
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Minnesota Army National Guard's 34th Infantry Division band Center Mass concluded its week-long tour of the Gulf after playing five shows in four locations. The band played at Umm Qasr, an oil terminal in Basra, on the USS Decatur and at Camp Bucca before returning here Aug. 30.
The highlight of the trip for many of the band members was performing Aug. 26 for the sailors stationed aboard the USS Decatur, which is providing security around Basra oil terminal in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“That was the best thing this week, playing on the Decatur,” said Sgt. Ryan Lodgaard, Center Mass drummer and a St. Paul, Minn., resident. “I never thought in a million years I would play on a Navy destroyer for the Army. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one I won’t soon forget.”
Many of the Decatur’s crew and the members of Center Mass believe this is the first time an Army band has performed on a Navy ship at sea, and according to Sgt. Dave Woychek, Center Mass keyboardist, it wasn’t easy getting there.
“We had a lot of mishaps and interesting experiences trying to get out here,” the Winona, Minn., resident said in reference to the band being stuck at sea for a few hours after the boat they were on broke down the day before.
The band members were determined to get out to the Decatur and perform for the sailors, who often miss out on USO tours, regardless of whatever mishaps delayed them.
“We decided when we came to Iraq that the large [forward operating bases] get a lot of USO tours,” Woychek said, “so we made it our main goal to get out to the smaller FOBs and patrol bases, and in this case, ships to play for the guys who deserve it most, the guys who don’t get any entertainment.”
“As an Army band, we don’t need the force protection required by USO tours to go to the smaller FOBs and play for the servicemembers that don’t get anything,” said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Johnson, bassist and team leader for Center Mass.
Johnson, a Minneapolis resident said, he enjoys getting out and seeing all the different FOBs and performing for the soldiers who never get big-name entertainers.
The high heat and humidity didn’t keep the band from playing for the servicemembers. After each show, although they were dripping in sweat, the look of satisfaction swept across their faces because they knew they had given their best and entertained the crowds.
“We pushed on and made it happen,” Lodgaard said. “Just knowing we are entertaining the servicemembers who are in harm’s way every day makes it easier. I saw a lot of smiles while performing this week. Being in a band is a great job to have for the Army.”
(Army Spc. Darryl L. Montgomery serves in the Multinational Division South public affairs office.)