Honoring Country and Family: Military Bands

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Military band playersThe contributions of our armed forces must never be forgotten. Over the Memorial Day weekend, Sgt. Ashley Dembiczak and hundreds of other U.S. military musicians across the country and abroad will help commemorate the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans. For Dembiczak, her own family’s military tradition provides additional inspiration.

“My grandfather, Hilary Dembiczak, served in Korea with the U.S. Army and my dad, Mark Dembiczak, served in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy,” says Dembiczak, a clarinet player with the 3D Marine Aircraft Wing Band in San Diego, Calif.

“When I perform on Memorial Day and other special occasions, I’m honoring them and all other veterans.” Dembiczak’s grandfather passed away last summer.

Serving Musically

“I’ve served for almost eight years entirely in Southern California, in three different Marine bands,” explains Dembiczak, a native of Chisholm, Minnesota. She adds that the 3D Marine Aircraft Wing Band is one of ten Marine Corps field bands stationed across the U.S. and Okinawa, Japan.

She expects to move every three to four years, largely influenced by instrumentation needs at different bands; along with clarinet, Dembiczak also plays guitar in the unit’s rock band. In July, she will have served with this unit for three years.

The 3D Marine Aircraft Wing Band has deployed to Iraq twice as a unit. However, following the drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq, very few members of the band has been deployed since 2010. Not all military bands deploy; it depends on their mission.

Dembiczak’s military music career started after three years of college. She was in a ROTC program to become a commissioned office when she decided instead to visit a recruiting office and enlist.

“The recruiter asked a number of questions, including if I played an instrument,” Dembiczak recalls. “I didn’t know the Marine Corps had bands other than ‘The President’s Own’ in Washington, D.C.”

She was offered the chance to audition for the Marine Band program; she passed and was sent to boot camp and then Marine Combat Training. Next came six months at the Navy School of Music in Virginia Beach, Va.

Raising Expectations

Now on active duty, she and other musicians in the unit still audition annually. Those results determine whether or not Marines are promotable to the next rank. The evaluators are the unit’s command element members – people who have billets (positions) above the musician level – including band officers, drum majors, enlisted conductors and small ensemble leaders. Over the past eight years, Dembiczak has been promoted three times; she recently received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for performance above and beyond duty.

“For each rank we achieve, we have to show a certain level of proficiency,” she explains. “The expectations keep rising as we advance.”

Clarinet player in military bandDembiczak credits her military success to her demonstrated ability to handle extra responsibilities while still maintaining the same musicianship standards as her peers. For example, she is the unit’s platoon guide, responsible for 30 Marines under her. Dembiczak also runs the unit’s defense travel systems network, acting as a travel coordinator for the band, which numbers approximately 45 musicians.

For travel, the unit may perform close by – right outside the base’s gate – or farther away such as northern California, Oregon or Montana. Summertime sees more travel, including numerous ceremonies for change of command ceremonies, relief and appointment ceremonies, and retirements for military personnel.

On Memorial Day, the 3D Marine Aircraft Wing Band will perform at a local American Legion hall. The program will feature appropriate American music including “God Bless America,” “Taps,” “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Stars & Stripes Forever.”

Dembiczak considers the latter one of her favorites. “Everyone knows it, with the piccolo solo, and everyone claps along. It’s just a fun piece.”

Showing Respect

She enjoys performing on Memorial Day because “it shows a respect for those who have gone before us.” Dembiczak says veterans definitely demonstrate their appreciation for a military band performance, in part because it brings back memories of their friends who served.

Along with concerts at VFW posts, American Legion halls and other venues, the 3D Marine Aircraft Wing often participates in community parades.

“When we’re on a parade route, I think it’s really notable how the veterans recognize and salute the color guard as it passes. Some older vets really struggle to stand up, but they make the effort out of respect,” recalls Dembiczak.

For more information about the 3D Marine Aircraft Wing Band, visit their website.

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