At a concert celebrating Military Appreciation weekend, the 323d Army Band played loud and strong at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, despite being at a crossroads.
This weekend’s concert was supposed to be one of the last for the 323d Army Band, fondly known as Fort Sam’s Own. Last year, the band fell victim to a force restructuring measure. Many of its members have already been re-stationed. But instead of hitting a somber note Sunday, the 323d played with its usual gusto — its fate had taken a turn.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of Army North, announced in late April that the decision to deactivate the band had been reversed. The Army and Congress had considered factors like troop population and community size — and decided Fort Sam Houston needed its band.
Now, the Army is looking at ways of redistributing its musical personnel to keep the 323d alive.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jonathan Ward, bandmaster for the 323d, offered his assessment of the situation.
“We provide music,” he said. “I think that we should provide it to the best of our ability and to as much of the Army as possible. If that means spreading the peanut butter just a little bit thinner, I think we can do that."
When asked if the decision to save the band had anything to do with the passage of the massive 2018 defense budget, Ward said he didn’t think so.
"We're not trying to grow any personnel,” he said. “So what we're trying to do doesn't cost the Army any more money.”
For now, Ward said the 323d Army Band is still operating under the old deactivation orders. Its membership will dwindle down to just 16 people in July and August. However, the band will continue to provide musical support, playing at events like naturalization ceremonies, graduations, and changes of command.
Ward said he’s optimistic that new orders will come down soon, allowing new band members to be brought in.
“I think that's kind of where everybody is, hoping that the right decisions are made. ... I want to see it go on, just for the community here. Because as the seventh largest city in the U.S., Military City USA, we have to have an Army band here."
Ward said community support for the band has been heartening.
“Everywhere we go, we get 'Oh, it's so sad; we're so sad to be losing you. So disappointed. What can I do? Can I write my congressman?'” he said.
Meanwhile, Ward is readying for his next duty station overseas, where he’ll serve as bandmaster for a whole new group of musicians. A native Texan is being considered as his replacement.
Carson Frame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carson_frame