Air Force Band Prepares for Historic Inaugural Parade Mission
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md., Jan. 7, 2009 “Welcome to one of the greatest moments of your career.”
The 99-piece U.S. Air Force band practices inside a hangar in preparation of its parade performance for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. The practice took place on Andrews Air Force Base, Jan. 7, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
With those words, Air Force Col. Dennis M. Layendecker, commander, music director and conductor for the U.S. Air Force Band, impressed on his airmen the importance of their upcoming mission supporting the presidential inauguration.
“This is a historic moment for our country,” Layendecker told the musicians, assembled nine across and 11 deep in the 459th Air Refueling Wing’s Hangar 11 for a 6 a.m. rehearsal session.
“It’s a great example to the world of what it means to have a peaceful transition of power,” he said.
The Air Force Band will join the other military service bands to march from the U.S. Capitol to the White House during President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural parade Jan. 20, said Air Force Capt. Christopher Moore of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee.
The U.S. Army Band, known as “Pershing’s Own,” will go first along the 1.5-mile parade route as part of the presidential escort formation. The Army Field Band also will march in what organizers refer to as the first “division,” or segment, of the parade.
“The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Corps Band will be on stage at the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony, then march down Pennsylvania Avenue as part of the second parade division. The U.S. Navy Band will follow in the third division.
As the youngest of the premier military bands, with a heritage dating to 1941, the U.S. Air Force Band will march in the fourth division.
The Air Force Band will be in the last contingent of armed forces bands, with only the U.S. Coast Guard Band to follow, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Elizabeth Schouten, the band’s superintendent, said. "The way we see it, they're saving the best for last," she added with a smile.
Each service band will have 99 musicians, a number reserved only for inaugural parades and state funeral processions. “That’s a b-i-i-i-g band,” two to four times the usual size, Layendecker said. “Directing it is kind of like steering an aircraft carrier.”
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Edward Teleky, the band’s drum major, will wave his huge, ceremonial baton, or ‘mace,’ high as he leads the Air Force Band down Pennsylvania Avenue. Layendecker and his command element will go next, followed by the trombones, French horns, trumpets, percussions and wind players. The tubas will hold up the rear.
They’ll march at 100 steps a minute, a bit slower than their typical 120-step march tempo.
Schouten estimated that, at that pace, the band will go through eight or nine iterations of the three songs it will play: John Philip Sousa’s “The Washington Post” march, “In Place Soundoff: Into Trombones Triumphant,” and “The Air Force Song.”
As they approach the review stand, the band will burst into a rendition of “Hail to the Chief.”
Schouten expressed hope that they’ll reach the stand before night settles over the Washington skyline. She has a good sense of what to expect on Jan. 20. She’s marched in six inaugural parades -- through rain, snow, slush, below-zero temperatures and blustery wind gusts – since following her childhood dream and joining the Air Force Band.
During President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration, she and her fellow band members marched behind miniature ponies and elephants, which left unexpected “debris” in their wake along the parade route.
“You have to stay in formation, whatever happens,” Schouten said with a laugh. “Some of the band members had to get rid of their shoes after that parade.”
Formation “is everything” when marching in the Air Force Band, Schouten explained.
After all, Layendecker said, “the whole world will be watching as we render our first salute to our commander in chief.”
Teleky, preparing for his sixth inaugural parade, appeared undaunted by the prospect of millions of spectators in Washington and billions more via TV.
“We’re going to come in, do our mission and complete our mission, regardless of how many people there are,” he said. “And when we do, we will be representing our U.S. military. It’s an honor to be able to do that to billions of people around the globe.”
With that in mind, the band’s command group moved through the formation during today’s rehearsal to ensure no detail went overlooked. They followed along as the group moved outside into the pouring rain to march in formation across the tarmac.
“We try to be as perfect as humanly possible,” Schouter said. “After all, the public hears with their eyes. When they see us, we want to be sure that we are representing the excellence of the men and women of the Air Force.”
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Bowers, a clarinetist looking forward to his first inaugural parade, said Jan. 20 will be a high point in a three-year Air Force career already punctuated with many high points.
“We play for a lot of important functions, but this is as important as it gets,” he said. “It’s amazing to be part of such a historical event. I feel lucky to represent the Air Force and airmen around the world.”
Despite her vast inaugural experience, Schouten said, she’s looking forward to the upcoming inauguration with the same enthusiasm she felt during her first, President Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981.
“What a wonderful opportunity this is to be a part of our nation’s celebration and to celebrate our way of life,” she said. “This will be a grand demonstration of support for our newest commander in chief. I’m so glad to be part of this historic moment, and of this band.”