These past couple weeks I’ve spent most of my time doing a part of my job I don’t normally get to do. I’ve spent the past seven days on the rifle range, firing 50 rounds per day at targets between 200 and 500 yards away. As a Marine, I’m required to be qualified to fire the M16A2 service rifle in the regulation course of fire. As a Marine Musician, I don’t normally get the opportunity to do this.
Many people ask me if I had to go to recruit training (“boot camp”) in order to do what I do. Many Marines in my unit take offense to this, as if it’s a logical connection to make between a well-groomed musician marching down the street in dress blues playing a horn and a rifle-toting, camouflaged warrior on the battlefield. I, however, do not share in their attitude.
I’ll be the first one to tell you that my role in the Marine Corps is one of “combat support”; as a matter of fact, most jobs in the Marine Corps are exactly that. We have mechanics, cooks, paralegals, reporters, computer technicians, and just about every other kind of job you’d find in the civilian sector (except medical — we borrow them from the Navy, as the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy). And every one of these jobs is extremely important in its own right, if for no other reason than to support the combative forces. How would the troops be transported if it weren’t for well-maintained vehicles? 21st Century communications and information systems without computer technicians?
I’ve come across a number of Marine Musicians who enjoy the fact that we don’t do much of the “green” stuff that Marines do. And these are the same Marines who give the impression that we aren’t “real” Marines. Marine Musicians, like all Marines, are required to attend four months of recruit training and one month of combat training before reporting to the six-month school of music. Infantry Marines, on the other hand, attend the same recruit training, and instead of combat training, they attend the three-month school of infantry before reporting to their duty station.
Our job, on a day-to-day basis consists mainly of rehearsals and field drill (marching). We practice doing our job, so that when it comes time to perform our duties, we’re prepared to be the best in the world. And this is exactly what the infantry does: they rehearse combat scenarios and practice working in the field so that when it comes time for them to perform their duties, they’re prepared to be the best in the world.
It doesn’t surprise me that many Marines in combat positions, and especially civilians who see us from their living rooms on TV, view their jobs as more important. After all, when they are called to action, their lives are at stake, and every round they fire is having a direct impact on the security of this country. Knowing how our jobs differ in normal conditions, it doesn’t shock me that people assume we undergo different training, or that since my job as a Marine Musician doesn’t regularly require being in combat, I must not have to go through that training.
It’s a fact that we go through the same training. The obvious question is “why?” And the simple answer is that, at some point, we may be required to perform the same duties. Did you know that cooks were among the first on the beaches of Normandy? Or that, if deployed, Marine bands are responsible for defending the command post? Or even that when the infantry is fighting a war around the world, it’s the legal administrators, supply clerks, and musicians (among others), that take on the responsibility of maintaining security on the base the infantry left behind?
The Marine Corps, according to most around the world, is one of the most powerful fighting forces on the planet. And the reason for this is because every one of us is a warrior in our own right. And every one of us does our own little part in defending the country against enemies, both foreign and domestic. For Marine Musicians, we defend the country by garnering support for the Marines on the front lines. We play concerts, ceremonies, and parades, that not only directly support the troops — we play for the troops at their departures and arrivals from our base — but also indirectly through our public performances.
When I had the honor of marching in the 2003 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA, with the West Coast Combined Marine Band, one of the staff members reminded us of how important our job was:
“Millions of people will be watching this parade, both our friends and families as well as our enemies. We have a responsibility to this country and its people to be the best there is. We are a symbol of the Marine Corps and of the United States, and it is our job to show the world that we mean business and victory, whether marching through the steets of Southern California or the deserts of Southern Iraq.”
Besides having the same basic training as my brothers who fly helicopters, drive tanks, and storm beaches, I have another thing in common with them. I have the pride of being a Marine, and thus the knowledge and satisfaction that I am just as willing to lay down my life to protect the land, people, and freedom, I love.