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This is the first installment of our lead up to Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s
funeral, which the West Point Band will be performing this Thursday. In this
post, I’ll talk about what the individual band member does to prepare for
and successfully complete a high-profile military funeral.

The first thing on any band member’s mind when we are assigned to any job
outdoors, is the weather. What could the weather be? Will it be hot, cold,
wet, windy, or anything else that could lead to an uncomfortable outing. We
perform funerals year-round in all conditions, so dressing appropriately,
while still wearing the same uniform is a major concern. We will always
perform a funeral in the same uniform, no matter the weather; “Concert
Blue,” with a flat blue hat. This uniform is derived from the Revolutionary
War, and is totally unique to the West Point Band. In fact, the uniform is
made just yards from the band’s building on West Point at the Cadet Uniform
Factory. The uniform is fairly warm, which will be a plus for a funeral in
New York in late February. Most band members will choose to wear varying
degrees of long underwear and fleece under our uniform, but everyone must
look the same, so nothing is able to show through.

Once we have established what we will do to battle the elements, our
thoughts turn to the job at hand. For the average band member, General
Schwarzkopf’s funeral will pass much like any other, albeit with much more
media attention, and more people involved. The average band member just
follows the commands given by the Drum Major. We will of course have
rehearsal, and for the most part, know what the Drum Major will tell us to
do before he even gives the command. I have always found it interesting that
military honors at West Point hardly change at all whether we are rendering
honors for a 2nd Lieutenant who has been killed in action or for a General
who has lived a long life and died of natural causes well after the end of
his career. That being said, we do perform different music at West Point
than any other post in the Army. Later this week, Sgt. Maj. Jones will
elaborate on why.

One of the most difficult things about performing any funeral is staying
absolutely still for potentially a very long time. I recall one funeral in
the past where we stood at attention or parade rest for nearly two hours in
90+ degree humid heat, waiting for the chapel service to end. To stay still
and not pass out, you need to make sure your knees never lock, which I am
told can limit the blood flow to your brain to a small degree. That coupled
with having a low heart rate, since you have not moved in quite a long time,
can occasionally cause a fainting spell. This is usually the last thing
anyone wants to do, so all members of the band do our best to eat well, stay
hydrated before the funeral and stand correctly.

We also need to find a way to perform well on very cold instruments after
not playing for a very long time. This is first and foremost a problem for
the bugler who has been assigned to sound Taps. In the coming week, look for
a post by the bugler assigned to Gen. Schwarzkopf’s funeral talking about
his preparations and mindset for this high-profile event.

Above all else, no matter the rank of the Soldier being buried, I am aware
of the solemn honor that the band is rendering and the history behind our
presence. The staid dignity of a full military funeral is something totally
unique.

Words by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner

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