ECU alumni provide vital service in Army bands

From reveille to taps, music is an essential part of military service, and alumni of East Carolina University play a vital role in providing musical inspiration to the U.S. Army.

Graduates of ECU’s School of Music are finding not only professional success but also personal fulfillment serving their country and fellow soldiers as members of Army bands across the country and world.

“Our main mission is to provide musical support for soldiers and their families,” said Sergeant James Old ’08, ’11, a trumpet player in the U.S. Army Materiel Command Band, based out of Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. It is one of more than 30 active Army bands that perform at Army posts, retirements, funerals and in the community.

Old’s band performs around 350 missions a year and is occasionally deployed overseas. They play both formal ceremonial music and pop/rock hits. “When deployed, we support the troops by giving them a taste of home,” Old said. “My favorite part is being able to honor the people who do so much for our country.”

Staff Sergeant Kevin Maloney ’03 is a trumpet player in the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the Army’s most prestigious ensemble. In addition to playing at important ceremonial functions with the band, he also plays at funerals.

“I wasn’t sure at first about playing at funerals every day; I was afraid it would be depressing,” Maloney said. “But it is truly an honor to be able to do something for the families. It’s actually uplifting in a way. I enjoy it very much.”

Maloney performing at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo contributed)

Maloney performing at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo contributed)

To enlist in an Army band, musicians must not only pass an audition but also basic training. Musicians can be stationed at any Army post, but unlike other Army service members who can be assigned any duty, musicians know they will be part of a band when they enlist. Entry into the premiere ensembles is handled a bit differently, according to Maloney, with appointments based on vacancies.

Either way, Army bands can provide a challenging and fulfilling career for ECU graduates, according to Chris Ulffers, director of the School of Music.

“Our school does an incredible job training and inspiring all of our students to be wonderful and sensitive musicians,” Ulffers said. “Frankly, most schools of music excel at this sort of training. However, what sets music majors from ECU apart is their dedication to serve. After all, this is ECU’s motto. I see tremendous dedication to service in our students, regardless of their major or student organization to which they belong. Consequently, this dedication to serve transfers after they leave ECU, when they begin serving their communities and their professions. A career in the Army is a wonderful example of the commitment to service of our graduates.”

Ulffers says some feel the call to serve in the military while they’re still in school, and some several years after graduation.

“I knew I’d have a job in the Army before graduating school,” said Staff Sergeant Jackie Jones, who auditioned for Army bands before graduating in May 2006. After auditioning in February, she shipped out to basic training that July and succeeded despite the fact that she “had never really worked out much before.”

Jones had been talking to her professors and a recruiter about a career in Army bands, and when they offered a college loan repayment, “everything lined up,” she said.

Jones spent several years as a drummer in various bands before becoming a recruiter herself in July 2015. Based out of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, she recruits from 13 states in the central and southwest U.S. She has met several ECU alumni on the job.

“The musicians we have from ECU are some of our top musicians,” Jones said. “I feel like ECU alumni do really well in Army bands.”

Originally from Jacksonville, Jones came to ECU because it was not only close to home and affordable, but also known for its music program. “ECU had everything,” she said.

She was on the snare drum line in the Marching Pirates for three years and participated in several other ensembles. “Being in a lot of different groups helped me with my career in the Army; I wasn’t pigeonholed into one style of music,” she said.

Staff Sergeant Jackie Jones ’06, center, with the Army Music Recruiter Liaison team at Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, December 2015. (Photo contributed)

Staff Sergeant Jackie Jones ’06, center, with the Army Music Recruiter Liaison team at Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, December 2015. (Photo contributed)

Old entered the Army in 2012 after working for Coca-Cola for 18 months; the economy was down around the time he graduated and it was tough to find jobs performing music. Born and raised in Elizabeth City, he grew up watching many of the prominent Virginia-based military ensembles perform in his area. He came to ECU because his high school band director and role model was an ECU graduate.

“Absolutely without a doubt ECU prepared me for my career,” Old said. “I love serving and playing at Redstone Arsenal.”

Maloney still uses lessons he learned at ECU while performing in “Pershing’s Own” as well as a smaller subgroup called the “Army Blues” jazz band.

“I left ECU with so much knowledge of the trumpet,” Maloney said. He named professors Britt Theurer and Carroll Dashiell as major inspirations, particularly Dashiell for his skills and passion. “I’m still using what he taught me about how to groove.”

For Jones, ECU allowed her to access many opportunities through the Army.

“The biggest opportunity the Army gave me was to travel and live abroad,” Jones said. “I would never have had this opportunity if it weren’t for the Army. And I wouldn’t be successful in Army bands if I hadn’t gone to ECU. I have pride for my country and my alma mater. The camaraderie is very similar at ECU and in the Army. Everyone is in this together.”

ECU alumnus Sgt. James Old ’08, ’11 performed at a recent funeral in Alabama. (Photo by Redstone Arsenal Public Affairs)

ECU alumnus Sgt. James Old ’08, ’11 performed at a recent funeral in Alabama. (Photo by Redstone Arsenal Public Affairs)