Heartland of America Band completes transition

  • Published
  • By Ryan Hansen
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Throughout the history of music, all great bands go through periods of transition. Whether it's a shift in musical direction or simply a lineup change, almost all bands experience it.

The Heartland of America Band, stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., is certainly no different.

A little more than a year ago, the Air Force decided to restructure its band program to properly align its resources against ongoing requirements, and the HOAB was selected to transition from a 46-piece band to a 16-piece band.

The group recently completed their re-shuffling and are now on their way back to doing what they do best -- providing Team Offutt and the local area with outstanding musical entertainment.

"The primary benefit of our new structure is we preserved the ability to provide high-quality musical support to Offutt Air Force Base and U.S. Strategic Command while helping the 3N1 band career field reach its end strength goals," said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Beshears, HOAB regional band manager.

Previously, the HOAB reported directly to Air Combat Command Public Affairs and served an area of more than 681,000 square miles. Now their area of operations consists only of the state of Nebraska and the local community.

The HOAB is categorized as a named activity, which is very similar to a detachment, and falls under the Heritage of America Band chain of command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. Their new rank structure and instrumentation is based on the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

And while they may not have as many members as they once had, the HOAB still have a lot of musical options.

"We currently have three named musical ensembles," said Doug Roe, HOAB director of operations, "Raptor, Offutt Brass and Vortex."

Raptor consists of five musicians performing on bass, guitar, drums, keyboards and vocals.

Offutt Brass includes five brass players that perform on trumpets, French horn, trombone and tuba as well as an additional musician who plays drum set as well as a variety of other percussion instruments.

"Both of these groups are typical of what you would find in other Air Force bands," Roe said.

Vortex is comprised of all the musicians in the Offutt Brass along with an added vocalist and guitarist.

"While a bit unusual, the configuration of Vortex has a proven track record as various Air Force bands have successfully deployed similar groups on several occasions to support our troops in Southwest Asia," Roe said.

In fact, Vortex made their debut in May and the audience reaction was very positive.

"Some seemed unsure of what to expect from a group that looked 'different,' but were quickly won over with their wide variety of tunes and entertaining showmanship," he said.

The HOAB will continue to perform using these three ensembles for the immediate future, but that could change as they move forward.

"The future will surely require us to assemble different groupings of musicians," Roe said. "We're fortunate to have talented men and women with the musical flexibility to take advantage of these opportunities."

While the HOAB has made the most of the transition, there were obviously some challenges and heartaches along the way.

"It was hard to let go of providing support to Airmen at military bases in our old touring area," Beshears said. "We put quite a bit of effort into setting up the Academy Band and Band of Mid-America to facilitate the continuation of service to these locations."

Another challenge for the HOAB has been how to carry on with some of their more important outreach missions. One was their annual holiday concert series in Omaha, which had become a staple of the community after 26 years in existence.

"For this year's holiday series, we were able forge an agreement with our parent organization, the Heritage of America Band, to provide approximately 10 extra musicians and had hoped to bring in one or two musicians from sister service bands," Beshears said. "We also planned on inviting various civilian musicians to participate and collaborate in the shows and were exploring the idea of bringing in local military talent from U.S. Strategic Command. With this approach, we believe we could have actually increased the entertainment value of this important event."

Unfortunately, sequestration has imposed fiscal limits that made their plan impossible to execute.

However, the HOAB is continuing to look at new and exciting ways to build and grow their local partnerships.

"We are putting together a concert series with our 13 musicians and plan to take the show to communities in the local area," Beshears said. "But it is a bit of a challenge as we cannot spend funds or authorize per-diem at this time."

Other future plans call for the HOAB to put together two to three performance series every year that would target Nebraska as well as nearby communities in Iowa.

"These tours will focus on community and educational outreach," Beshears said. "In other words, they would be public concerts and performances in schools that would often include mentorship sessions and musical master classes with the students.

"Special concerts to celebrate national patriotic holidays such as Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day are always high on our list of priorities," he added. "We are also coming up on various historical events associated with the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II that will warrant special commemorative events."

Change is never easy, and neither was this transition. However, the now streamlined HOAB is looking forward to seeing what their new structure is capable of.

"Our vision will be driven by our mission," Roe said. "On the military support side of the house, the mission is to help build, maintain and strengthen morale and meet the needs of U.S. Strategic Command as well as the 55th Wing, Air Force Weather Agency and the other tenant units at Offutt. Support can also be provided to the Nebraska Air National Guard and to Air Force recruiters throughout the state of Nebraska. In the community outreach realm, the mission is simple, to strengthen public trust and support for the Air Force and Department of Defense."

So regardless of their size, structure or geographic footprint, the HOAB will continue to make an impact and serve their country as they have done now for more than 70 years.

"These are challenging times for our Air Force," Roe said. "But we will continue to do our best to excel at the missions to which we have been assigned."