Heartland Band tradition survives Air Force axe

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

There are two ways to lose weight.

One is by going on a diet. The other is by amputating a limb.

We're glad the U.S. Air Force changed its mind and decided to the former.

In July, we used this space to plead for that branch of the military to do just that, and keep the Heartland of America Band at Offutt Air Force Base in business.

There is still room for Glenn Miller in the age of punk rock and iPods, we argued.

"We're all for saving as many taxpayer dollars as possible, and heaven knows there are plenty of them wasted in any military budget in peacetime, not to mention a time of military operations like the ones under way in Iraq," we wrote then.

"But the band has done a good job with keeping up on musical trends, as well as tying into patriotic traditions connecting today's service personnel with their parents and grandparents," we said.

Sens. Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel agreed, and let the Pentagon know. On Monday, Nelson was able to announce that, instead of cutting the Omaha band and two others, the personnel strength of all military bands will be cut by 25 percent.

That will reduce the 53-member Heartland band to about 45 musicians, Nelson's office said, and reduce its $732,000 budget accordingly.

The band started in 1943 at Ardmore Army Air Base in Oklahoma, and grew into a 35 member concert band. It moved from base to base until finally settling at Offutt in November 1948.

Last year, the main concert orchestra and side groups gave nearly 600 concerts throughout the Heartland -- Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota, and its country-rock group made a month-long tour of Iraq and the Middle East earlier this year.

Over the years, the Gazette, which at one time shared McCook with an Army Air Force Base, has played local sponsor for the band's patriotic traditional performances as well as interpretations of modern styles.

We're happy that the tradition can continue.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: