JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Mass. – The Airmen of the 567th Air National Guard Band came together Saturday to bid farewell to one another and to traditions spanning over seventy years of musical service at the 567’s decommissioning ceremony at Joint Base Cape Cod. Members from past and present watched as the bands colors were cased for one last time. They listened as high-level officials remarked on the event, ushered in by the band’s last rendition of General’s March.
A small alumni ensemble played for the ceremony, and while the pieces were expertly played, the six-piece group sounded small in the mammoth concrete hanger. Prior to last November, the 35-person unit could easily have filled the space with any kind of music the crowd requested— from salsa to rock, lighthearted jazz charts to somber traditional pieces.
Due to budget-conscious force restructuring, the Air National Guard decided last year to deactivate five of the 11 Air Guard Bands. 1st Lt. Steven Ortiz, the band’s commander, had to break the tough news that they were one of those selected. Which bands to cut came down, in part, to how close other musical units were, said Ortiz. Since Hanscom Air Force Base’s Band of Liberty, an active duty Air Force band, was less than 40 miles away, the 567th was selected for decommissioning. Unfortunately, the Band of Liberty was inactivated this summer as well.
The loss of both Massachusetts units means there are now no Air Force bands in New England. To those in the 567th, many of who have spent more than 20 years with the unit, this fact hit hard.
“We were situated to be within three hours of pretty much any Air Force unit up here,” said Senior Master Sgt. Chuck Edgerly, the band’s superintendent. “Now if say a wing in Portland requests band support, they have to go as far as Pennsylvania, or as far as Virginia for an active duty band.”
The members of the band made sure that they kept the musical support going until the last possible moment, however. The personnel draw down that led up to the band’s eventual decommissioning left the 567th with not enough musicians to field a standard symphonic band during their last annual training together. Instead of spending two weeks doing administrative tasks or drilling with other units, said Ortiz, his few remaining musicians travelled around the country to put their talents to good use.
“As a whole, the Air Force Band’s mission is to leverage public affairs through music,” said Ortiz. “We kept that mission going by doing a tour of New England, but it didn’t stop there. We went all over the States: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Michigan, Delaware, Virginia, you name it. We kept playing, and we’ll keep playing.”
Many will even keep playing in a military capacity. Ortiz and his non-commissioned officer support staff made sure that every interested Airman was placed with a new band unit.
The Air Force-wide band drawdown made this difficult at times, with some Airmen transitioning to Army band careers, and some going far afield to find an Air National Guard band that could take them on. Master Sgt. Beverly Perriccio, the bands director of personnel, said she will be spending her remaining time in the Air National Guard playing for the Band of the Gulf Coast in Texas.
“They’ve taught me how to be a better man, a better father, a better husband,” Ortiz noted during a gathering following the ceremony. Every person interviewed echoed that sort of sentiment, and as the evening wound down, it was clear that regardless of where the 567’s individual Airmen will be, its spirit will live on through their music, vivacity and the sense of community they have engendered over the years.