HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Chief Warrant Officer 4 (Ret.) James Girard, commander, 215th Army Band, received the Legion of Merit during a ceremony at the Massachusetts National Guard Headquarters here July 9, 2013.
The Legion of Merit is given for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.
Girard served for 34 years in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard. He commanded the 215th Army Band for 24 years holding command longer than any other officer in the Massachusetts National Guard. He returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 and retired shortly after.
Girard is known for his warm, outgoing personality but also for his commitment to excellence and his love for the U.S. Army.
His award citation, signed by Maj. Gen L. Scott Rice, The Adjutant General Massachusetts National Guard, read as follows:
Chief Warrant Officer 4 James M. Girard had a distinguished military career from 13 October 1970 to 30 April 2012. Mr. Girard enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard in November 1980, after serving six years in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve as a band member. His technical expertise, infectious enthusiasm and spirited attitude propelled him to be the bandmaster. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Girard was the first "Commander/Bandmaster" to serve an unprecedented twenty four years in the 215th Army Band. His tenure as bandmaster is not likely to be broken. He commanded the 215th Army band when they were invited by President Reagan to perform at the 1986 Presidential Summit with the Soviet Union in Iceland.
In 1990 he arranged and performed goodwill missions in Kingston, Jamaica for the U.S. Embassy. During his tenure, he performed at orphanages and other charitable events for the people devastated by Hurricane Hugo. In 1994, Chief Girard and his 215th Army band opened the World Cup Ceremony in Foxboro, Mass. In 1995, Mr. Girard and the 215th Army Band was recognized as the only U.S. Military Forces Band represented in the Netherlands 50th Anniversary of the Armistice.
By invitation, Chief Girard lead his unit for two-week tours in Greece, Alaska and other remote areas at the request of governments, general officers and other band masters. As the Master of Ceremonies for Veteran's events, parades and celebrations around the world, Chief Girard has distinguished himself among the best. As the company commander, Chief Girard maintained his unit strength at 100 percent for his twenty four year reign. He was always operationally deployable and mission ready.
During Chief Girard's next assignment as Health Service Support Officer, he managed the oversight, administration and implementation of policies pertaining to Massachusetts medical affairs, health and wellness programs and medical claims processing programs for injured Soldiers. His dedication to the well being of Soldiers and the medical readiness of the force was commendable.
Most recently he deployed to Afghanistan as the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Officer for the 26th "Yankee" Infantry Brigade, serving approximately 10,000 service members, Coalition Forces and contractors. As a senior warrant officer in Massachusetts, he was chosen for this highly visible and diplomatic position, where he fulfilled the mission and surpassed all expectations. His service to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States Army was dignified, honorable and admirable. Without a doubt, his retirement is a loss heard around the world.
Expressing the impact Girard had on his career, 1st Sgt. Jeffrey Hyde, 215th Army Band said, “Throughout his 24 years as my Commander Mr. Girard has inspired me to be the best Soldier and musician that I can be. He believed in me and my leadership abilities. We have served together at home and abroad. In 2003 I had the honor of being selected to be the 4th First Sergeant to serve under him in the 215th. It was truly one of the proudest days of my life.”
Sharing a memory of serving with Girard, 1st Sgt. Jeffrey Hyde, 215th Army Band said, “There are so many but one that sticks out in my mind was when the 215th Army Band traveled to the Netherlands in May of 1995 to help commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II. We performed at a parade where thousands of Soldiers who fought in WWII marched as well. As we made our way through the cobblestone streets of the town we could see the audience was getting larger and larger and the street was getting smaller and smaller. As we marched and played I could see many of the civilians in the audience were putting flowers in our pockets or our shirts, kissing our cheeks or shaking our hands and saying, ‘Thank you’, ‘thank you.’ Never had I witnessed anything like that before. At the conclusion of the parade Mr. Girard gave a speech to the band and said, ‘Although it was not directly us that fought in World War II and liberated the Netherlands no matter where you are, or what you are doing always remember that when you put on the uniform of the United States Army you represent the men and women that fought and died before you.’ I have heard that said many times before but never until then had it been so meaningful.”
One of his assistants, Sgt. 1st Class James Lally, Headquarters Detachment, Joint Force Headquarters, described what it was like to work with Girard in Afghanistan. Lally said, “I served with Mr. Girard in Kabul and worked directly for him. He did a lot for my moral, he kept me laughing the entire deployment and I had a lot of fun with him. He also mentored me a great deal and always drove home the point that we needed to take care of Soldiers and that we were lucky to serve in the U.S. Army. He is very deserving of the Legion of Merit and I think it was a great way to acknowledge a very long and distinguished career.”