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Another Military Option, Life in a Guard Band

Richard Fitz | July 2009

    My career in the military as a member of an Air National Guard Band continues to be anything but ordinary. I have performed in any number of special concerts for visiting dignitaries, gov­ernors, and military officers while sharing music stands with an amazing ensemble of fellow musicians. In addition the band regularly performs throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States and Florida, and it recently played in Europe.
    The two weeks I spent in England and Denmark were a highlight of my years in music because they included the opportunity to play with members of other military bands, and I was a featured soloist throughout the tour. It was also a time to experience the cuisine, culture, and wonderful people of these countries.
Versatility is important to being part of a military band. The music degrees I earned in both percussion and piano provided me with opportunities to perform as principal percussionist with the Air Guard’s concert band and jazz band in addition to being a keyboardist in its popular music ensemble and jazz combo. I am also Director of Operations and Logistics for the band The fact that I play in more than one ensemble gives me additional performance experiences in between the required weekends each month.

A Lifelong Career
    My career as a military bandsman began after college when I joined the USAF Band of the East for six years followed by two years with the USAF Heritage of Am­erica Band at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. Both were full-time, active duty organizations. Next I auditioned to play percussion with the Air National Guard Band of the Mid-Atlantic, which is stationed at Ft. Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, un­aware that the position would be perfect for me.
    At the time my wife and I were expecting our first child so I simply wanted to be close to home and near my parents’ home where I could teach. To be honest I knew very little about the organization, its requirements, or my responsibilities as a member. Within a few months I realized the value of my decision. Now, 15 years later, I continue to enjoy the benefits of the Air Guard Band and great music making with other fine musicians.

Benefits for Students
    For college students, membership in the Air National Guard Band includes educational benefits, such as the GI Bill, and additional benefits that vary from state to state. Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard qualify for the state’s Education Assistance Program, which pays 100% of school tuition fees for those who attend one of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools or the equivalent amount to attend another school in Pennsylvania.
    Several members of the band have used this opportunity to pay for college and earn additional monthly income.  Bands also provide professional instruments for their members and perform literature comparable to college ensembles. The Popular Music Ensemble of the Mid-Atlantic Air Guard also performs Top 40 rock charts, popular country music, and anything in between. A typical summer tour encompasses Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and Western New York.
    The responsibilities of a bandsman include devoting one weekend per month and two full weeks in the summer to the Air Guard Band. It leaves me enough time for my full-time position as band director at Garden Spot High School in New Holland, Penn­sylvania. Although I am not a re­cruiter, I have discussed the benefits of joining the Air Guard Band with several of my students, and now some of my former students are in the band with me.
    Auditioning for an Air Guard Band is not easy because the stringent audition requirements take months of preparation. Recruiters are always looking for highly qualified, talented, and mature musicians who share a love of music and sense of dedication to their country.
    The friendships I have made through the Air National Guard Band have provided a lifetime of memories to cherish, amazing performances to remember, and even an additional retirement pension. There are 11 Air National Guard Bands across the country. For more information go to or learn more about the Pennsylvania Air National Guard Band of the Mid-Atlantic by visiting  The career possibilities may surprise you.       

Master Sergeant Richard Fitz is the principal percussionist and director of Operations for the Air National Guard Band of the Mid-Atlantic. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in music performance from West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He also is the high school and middle school band director at his alma mater, Garden Spot High School.