Heartland of America Band: Soothing the savage beast

  • Published
  • By L. Cunningham
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

What can soothe, inspire, console, and bring back memories from long ago? It can electrify your surroundings, and make a person start to dance.  Some people say it can even soothe the savage soul. It is music and the talents of musicians as they perform for others.

One of the most famous members of the Army Air Force Band is Maj. Glenn Miller from the swing era. Volunteering to entertain the troops during World War II, he joined in 1942. He formed a 50-piece band that performed approximately 800 times until his disappearance, when he was declared missing in action while flying over the English Channel in December 1944.

Musicians that started in the 402nd Army Air Force Band were assigned to Offutt’s Strategic Air Command and became known as the Strategic Air Command Band. In June 1992, the band was re-designated to what we know it as today, the Heartland of America Band.

In 2013, the band was restructured from a 46-piece to a 16-piece band and was assigned to the United States Air Force Heritage of America Band. The performances went from an eight-state area of responsibility to performing in Nebraska and other local communities.

“Since there are only a handful of active duty bands in the central Midwest, we still often support Ellsworth AFB, Minot AFB, F.E. Warren AFB, as well as local communities in the Dakotas and Iowa,” said Tech. Sgt. Paul Wells, HOAB guitarist and publicist.

The HOAB honors veterans, past and present, and inspires future generations of musicians by communicating through the universal language of music.

Their music can be heard throughout the base as they render heartfelt performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” for retirement ceremonies and change-of-command ceremonies.

“When singing our national anthem, I think of all the men and women that have selflessly fought for this country over the past decades,” said Master Sgt. Amber Grimes, vocalist, HOAB. “There is a sense of pride and humility when it is sung.”

Let nobody forget the mournful sound of “To the Colors,” also known as taps, which is performed during military funerals and at least three times a year on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and now in December during the Wreaths Across America Ceremony.

“Admittedly, while I stand around waiting for the cue of the firing party, prayers flood my mind,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Thrower, HOAB bugler. “No matter what one may believe, this level of preparation augments the dignity and somber nature of the bugle call. Focusing on the need to bring honor to the fallen hero and their family increases my physical abilities to do a good job.”

Some HOAB members have performed for dignitaries such as former President Barack Obama, and former Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden. Some have shared the stage with performers such as jazz legend Darmon Meader, gospel artist Babbie Mason, and country singer Lee Greenwood. Some have performed with Canadian Brass, the Omaha Symphony, Kansas City Symphony and other symphonies.

“Military bands can be a great way to have a stable career as a musician while also serving one’s country,” said Airman 1st Class Stephen Spink, HOAB bugler. “They are made up of professional musicians, and auditions to enter the band career field are highly competitive.”

These Airmen from across the country perform together to uplift troop morale, honor veterans, and inspire diverse audiences. Amongst the members, they hold five masters degrees, seven bachelors degrees and one doctorate, all in music.

They are professional musicians adapting to the ever changing genres of music. They put in hours of rehearsal until the music becomes second nature. They perform historical patriotic music, chamber music, rock, country, pop and funk, adjusting each and every performance the military way.

One major adjustment due to COVID-19 led them to totally revamp the execution of their mission by, pivoting to an online presence with performances.

In 2021, they fine-tuned again with live performances celebrating Armed Forces Day in May and Independence Day in mid-town Omaha with approximately 2,000 people in attendance for the performance. 

Though the faces change over the years, their music remains. Constantly flourishing, entertaining and uplifting as they maintain their mission to synergize public affairs with musical support to the 55th Wing, Air Combat Command, Air Force and the Department of Defense.

These men and women remain committed to the excellence of their music and the sounds that soothe the savage beast. 

Information about how to join the Air Force Bands is on the Air Force Bands website, with steps to join listed under Regional/Premier Band Audition Steps.