“Free”?  For Whom?

I recently saw the above ad in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

This immediately prompted the questions:

Free?

For Whom?

And this answer:

Not us taxpayers.

Who are the “Airmen of Note”?

The ad describes them as “The Premier Jazz Ensemble of the United States Air Force.”

Suggesting that there is more than one “Jazz Ensemble of the United States Air Force” and those others – the not “premiere” – are then apparently inferior?

Of course, this called for a visit to the Airmen of Note website:

Where we learn that the Airmen of Note…

“…is one of six musical ensembles that form The U.S. Air Force Band…the current band consists of 18 active-duty musicians, including one vocalist.”

Here they are:

I couldn’t help but notice that there is a female member in Airmen of note:

Perhaps the Air Force decided that “Airmen and Airwomen of Note” didn’t have quite the same cachet.  And perhaps the Air Force also decided that “Airpersons of Note…”

Didn’t cut it, either.

Either way, this jazz ensemble was advertising a “FREE CONCERT!” which meant free admission.

But the concert cost plenty.

Cost us taxpayers, that is.

I could find no recent articles about the cost of Airmen of Note and/or all the military musicians playing their little hearts out, courtesy of us taxpayers.  This article from 2019:

Used figures from three years earlier:

“…in 2016, the 136 military bands maintained by the Department of Defense, employing more than 6,500 full-time professional musicians at an annual cost of about $500 million, caught the attention of budget-cutters worried about surging federal deficits.”

I realize that $500 million – even $620,840,225 in 2022 dollars – is barely a drop in the bottomless bucket also known as national defense budget, which in FY 2022 was around $777 billion.

It’s just that…I don’t believe it’s an effective use of my tax dollars to pay thousands of military people to play music.

And back in 2016, then-Senator Martha McSally seemed to feel the same, according to this article:

“Martha McSally, a Republican Congresswoman from Arizona, made waves this week by attacking the Air Force’s bands.  ‘We have hundreds of people playing the tuba and clarinet,’ she said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.  ‘If we had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or gun.’”

That was March 2016, and then came this article in June 2016:

“Last week, the Arizona Republican [McSally] pushed forward, introducing a plan that would limit all military ensemble performances at social functions outside official military duties.”

“‘For every dollar that is spent on our bands to entertain at social functions, that’s a dollar we’re not spending on national security and our troops and families,’ said McSally, a retired Air Force colonel.

Martha, thanks for trying.

“‘This is not an attack on the arts,’ she continued.  ‘I’m a vocalist myself.  I care deeply about the arts…While our communities certainly do enjoy being entertained by our military bands, they would prefer to be protected by our military.’”

Apparently McSally’s “plan” went nowhere, and McSally went home in December 2020 after losing a special election to Senator Mark Kelly.

I can find no recent evidence online of anyone in the House or Senate challenging the Defense Department’s use of military members in bands and our tax dollars paying for it.

The above Air Force Times article, on the other hand, quoted several people who spoke about military bands “shouldn’t be underestimated” in the headline.  Here’s one of them:

“Senior Master Sergeant Matthew Ascione, guitarist and co-writer on many original songs for the band, said joining Max Impact gave him the opportunity to ‘serve my country and use that power and influence of music to further the goals of the Air Force…I make sure it gives me that emotional movement, because I know that if it moves me, it may move other people.’”

Well, Senior Master Sergeant Ascione, that’s really nice, but I’m wondering – how exactly does your writing and playing music “further the goals of the Air Force”?

And if the music “moves other people,” what is it moving them to

Is it moving people to…

Enlist?

To borrow Martha McSally’s phrase about a “manning crisis” in our military, according to this September 19 article, we’re having exactly that:

“The U.S. military’s all-volunteer force (AVF) is slowly dying…the armed services are struggling to meet their recruiting goals like rarely before.  The Army is the most affected, projected to fall short by up to 15,000 soldiers, with a larger deficit expected next year.  

“Experts point to a variety of reasons, such as insufficient pay and benefits, a difficult work-life environment, ‘culture war’ issues, COVID-19, and a strong job market.  Even if each were ‘fixed,’ the core issues driving the AVF’s decline still won’t be reversed.”

Can the Air Force track any – even one – enlistment by people hearing its music?

Where’s the payback here?  Where’s the ROI – the Return on Investment?

The taxpayers’ investment?

I’ve been talking about the Air Force bands, but let’s take a look at all these bands we’re paying for.

This guide came in handy:

It’s dated 2018 and you’ll see it comes with a “may be outdated” disclaimer, but here’s what I’ve learned:

Air Force:  17 bands.
Army:  88 bands.
Marines:  10 bands.
Navy:  11 bands.
Coast Guard:  1 band.

What?  No Space Force Band?

That’s OK.  When the Space Force does get a band – or two or 50 – this September article says they have an official song for their band(s) to play:

And since I had to read the lyrics, so do you:

I also listened to a recording of Semper Supra and, wow – talk about being “moved” by military music!

Not.

Not when I’m paying for it.

I know the Department of Defense will never agree to give back the money we taxpayers are spending on military bands, so I’ll offer an alternative.

Take those half-billion+ annual dollars and start fixing this:

What is this?

It’s images that show just some of the issues facing many military members and their families who live in military housing.

As this March 2022 article put it:

“In 2018, Reuters reported on the dangerous conditions that military families have faced in base housing, including mold growth, toxic exposure, lead-based paint and asbestos, pest and rodent infestations, and water and sewage issues.  Many conditions were exacerbated by poor or slow response to maintenance requests.

“…three residents of military housing told the subpanel that many of the issues meant to be corrected by the reforms persist throughout the system.”

So, how about it, fellow taxpayers?  Are you with me?

Disband the bands, put the personnel to work with that “wrench or gun” that Martha McSally talked about, and use the money to help provide decent housing for our all-voluntary military?

So we can stop seeing headlines like this recent example:

And stop seeing ads like this:

And stop paying for – Heaven help us – stuff like this:

Which would you rather pay for?

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