Michigan Guard Band Supports Communities During COVID-19

Michigan Soldiers from the 126th Army Band, concert band, Michigan Army National Guard, pose for a group photo, July 19, 2019, Marquette, Michigan. The 126th Army Band, commonly called the “Governor’s Own,” has been entertaining the citizens, service members, and veterans of Michigan for decades. The Belmont, Michigan-based band provides a wide spectrum of musical support that enhance the morale, motivation, and esprit de corps while fostering public trust and promoting our national interests home and abroad. (Army National Guard photo by 1st Sgt. Andrew Schwallier/released)

Story By Master Sgt. David Eichaker

Michigan National Guard

BELMONT, Mich. — The 126th Army Band of the Michigan National Guard, commonly called the “Governor’s Own,” has been entertaining the residents, service members, and veterans of Michigan for decades. The Belmont, Michigan-based band provides a wide spectrum of musical support that enhances the morale, motivation, and esprit de corps while fostering public trust and promoting our national interests home and abroad.

“We support events throughout Michigan for both Army and Air National Guard”, said Army Sgt. First Class Jane Montgomery, readiness noncommissioned officer (NCO), 126th Army Band, Michigan Army National Guard. “We try to affect Guard members in all aspects of their career by supporting them with different ceremonies such as promotions, graduations, and retirements.”

Even when service members have completed military service, the band still finds ways to support veterans.

“We perform in the communities we live and serve and always pay tribute to the veterans in the audience, said Montgomery. “We get a lot of people on their feet and waving the American flag.”

The 38-member band has a variety of ensembles including jazz, brass, rock band, and concert band, which encompasses all the bands.

“Normally we perform at the veterans homes in the state but this year has been different due to COVID-19,” said Montgomery. “We have not been allowed inside the homes where we typically have a brass quintet perform in their dinning facility and entertain the veterans while they eat.”

“Historically, we have performed at the veterans homes in Marquette and Grand Rapids and the Veterans Affairs hospitals in Battle Creek and Detroit,” she added.

The band doesn’t always need its instruments to serve the community. During the pandemic, they had a unique opportunity to give back by working in a local foodbank.

“Most of the volunteers in the Feeding America food bank consisted of community members who are considered in a high-risk category such as those more than 65 years old and students from local elementary, middle and high schools,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kimberly Ferrante, commander, 126th Army Band, Michigan Army National Guard. “Due to the mandatory stay-at-home order, the labor of these individuals was no longer available to Feeding America.”

Michigan’s sole Army National Guard band stepped in to assist.

“As the executive order extended over several weeks, the need at the warehouse also continued to climb,” said Ferrante. “Our 15-member team produced the same level of output as their daily 40-50 person volunteers.”

“This powerful labor force also allowed a concentration of work within a minimal number of laborers, which allowed the warehouse to practice appropriate social distancing while accomplishing the mission, ensuring the safety of their in-house operations staff and reduced the possibility of virus spread,” she said.

As performers, these Soldiers represented the National Guard mission of Always Ready, Always there.

“Over their tenure at Feeding America West Michigan, the team processed over 1.5 million pounds of product, which their work also included preparing warehouse orders, picking pallets of orders to service other distribution sites across west Michigan, packaging whole food products, sorting donations, packing emergency food boxes, and attending and running mobile food drives,” said Ferrante. “Additionally, they provided feedback on the production processes, improving the efficiency and organization throughout the warehouse.”

“They consistently supported mobile food drives around Kent County, meeting the needs of thousands of local families, school children, and community organizations in the area while their presence provided a positive connection with local organizations,” she said.

Band performers can often have different experiences and memories from giving back. One member has been performing for 17 years and recalled a first-time experience at a recent performance.

“This year’s annual training was different than others due to the COVID-19 pandemic as we were playing in smaller groups for retirement communities,” said Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Schmidt, supply NCO, 126th Army Band, Michigan Army National Guard. “We finished our set and as we were getting ready to leave, the veterans started singing God Bless America back to us showing their appreciation for what we did for them.”

“I can’t tell you how touching that was to get that kind of appreciation for the performance,” he said.

During the pandemic, the band also found a way to give back to the medical community. In one day, the band traveled to Muskegon, Holland, Grand Haven, Saugatuck, and Byron Center.

“We recently performed for local hospital employees and because of COVID, we cut the band down to smaller groups,” said Montgomery. “We had 2 groups of 12 perform at local hospitals and nursing homes standing while band members were outside and the residents were inside.”

“While at the hospital, the band performed across the street and played at shift change in order to catch as many workers as possible either heading into work or leaving for the day.”

“Since we can’t gather a crowd due to COVID, we went to them,” she said.

Through public performances, the 126th Army Band inspires patriotism and enhances public relations. Other band members say they are moved by the experience the appreciation for the performances they do.

“It’s very rewarding and emotionally touching when you see how much they appreciate what you’ve just done,” said Schmidt. “When someone comes up to you afterwards and lets you know how much they appreciate what you’ve just done, that’s when it touches you back.”

“That’s what makes it so special,” the former traffic management coordinator-turned percussionist in the jazz band said.

Being in the band also brings a sense of giving back, especially with the various social distancing policies in place due to COVID-19.

“Just knowing you’re really helping an individual in a time of crisis is a great thing. It really does help with morale and esprit de corps,” said Schmidt. “To know what you’re a part of is actually helping people that are out there, whether it’s through a performance or distributing food, when you see the outcome of that, that’s when it really touches you.”

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