WEST JORDAN — Ever since the Iraq War started more than 10 years ago, one unit of the Utah National Guard has been steadily busy.
This unit is not an engineering squad or a combat unit. The 23rd Army Band is assigned a completely different mission.
"Our job is to go out and provide musical support for the military, as well as the community," said band commander Denny Saunders. "We go into communities and we play concerts to promote patriotism."
Saunders said the band performs 60 to 65 shows every year across the country and the world, though most performances are in the state of Utah.
"Summer is definitely our busy time," Sgt. 1st Class Lisa Blodgett said. "In June and July, we're doing a lot of stuff and a handful (of events) in September, also."
There are several subgroups within the band, including the concert band, the jazz combo, the rock band and a brass quintet, among other groups.
"Every week, we have requests coming in for the band, and I go through those requests and decide which group is going to be the one that is going to be able to cover that," Blodgett said.
For instance, the buglers are sent to military funerals and Boy Scout troop visits. But if they need to play at a military ball, they'll break out the concert band.
The group has played for presidents, senators, members of Congress and heads of state. The group performs for thousands of people, giving clinics and concerts at schools, performing at civic functions, marching in parades and providing music for military dances, changes of command and pass-in-reviews, according to the group's website, 23rdArmyBand.com.
"We've got some troop departures coming up," Blodgett said. "We'll send the rock band out as entertainment while the festivities are going on before the departure."
The 23rd Army Band is more than just a group of musicians. It is also a highly trained group of U.S. Army soldiers that maintains a readiness with a full training schedule, including an annual weapons qualification, a semiannual physical training test, basic soldier training, combat readiness, and many other skills required as a soldier and a member of the Utah National Guard.
While these performances have the 23rd Army Band hopping, Saunders said it's nothing compared to what happens when soldiers are deployed.
"To leave your family for a year or more … what we do is very small by comparison," he said. "(It's) a very small sacrifice."
Still, Saunders said their work can be comforting for those with loved ones who are serving in the armed forces.
"I've had people come up to me after a concert with tears in their eyes, just saying, 'Thank you. Thank you. I have a son who is in the military. I have a son who is in Iraq.' I've seen that multiple times," he said.
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