The West Point Band recently performed for the “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair in New York City. Launched in 2011, “Hiring Our Heroes” is a nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities. It’s the third straight year we’ve participated. The last two years we appeared on NBC. This time, Fox and CBS picked it up. Anyway, it’s an interesting day and I thought it would be fun if I documented it. By keeping track of exact times on my iPhone, that’s what I did. Enjoy!
3:28am: I wake up two minutes before my alarm is set to go off.
4:10: I leave my house with a travel mug full of 20 ounces of coffee. It is black and strong. I also cue up a “Radiolab” podcast to keep my brain occupied before the caffeine kicks in.
4:31: I arrive in Ridgewood, NJ only one minute late. I view this as a small victory for me. I am here to carpool with a friend from work. From his street, I can see Valley Hospital in the distance. This is where my daughter was born nearly two years ago. The memory makes me very happy.
5:28: We arrive at the site of the event, the Lexington Ave. Armory. It’s a historical building completed in 1906 that today houses the U.S. 69th Regiment. Other members of the band begin trickling in.
6:03: Everyone from the West Point Band has arrived. We are served breakfast. There are pastries, muffins, bagels, and fruit. All of it looks delicious. I decide that I need to load up on calories if I am to get through such an early morning. This is my rationale as I pile large amounts of food onto my plate.
6:30: We begin changing into our uniforms for our first TV spot. I am relieved that I successfully packed every part of my uniform. I feel this relief despite quadruple checking everything the night before.
7:00: We begin filming our first television spot. We perform America Exultant. I feel nervous as the camera comes on. My respect for those who work in television is at an all-time high.
7:30: Another TV spot. This time we play The Stars and Stripes Forever. For this take, a cameraman is walking through the band as he films. I successfully play a high note towards the end right as the camera walks by me. In the moment, I imagine trombonists and veterans everywhere feeling inspired as they watch the broadcast.
8:00: We perform Carmen Dragon’s famous arrangement of America the Beautiful for our third spot. I first heard this version in 7th grade. I never imagined I’d be performing it in conjunction with news media for such a large audience.
8:05: We prepare to rehearse for the ceremony we’re participating in later in the morning. As a trombonist, I am in the front and literally leading those behind me. The band is divided into two sides of the armory. I am briefed on where to march and where to stop.
8:07: The band forms up. I have been shifted to the opposite side of where I was briefed. I have no certainty of where I’m marching or supposed to stop. I look confident and decisive, nonetheless. My line ends up in the correct spot. I am ready for the ceremony.
8:55: We are in place for the ceremony. There are several prominent folks scheduled to speak about the “Hiring Our Heroes” program. One of whom is Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer.
9:20: Dakota Meyer takes to the podium. Moments before, the story of how he was awarded the Medal of Honor is told in great detail. It is difficult not to get choked up in the moment. Hero is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but I cannot think of a better example than Dakota Meyer.
9:30: The band’s performance of God Bless America marks the end of the ceremony. We are done with TV filming until noon. We are told to stay in the armory in case the plans change. Smart phones were invented for this sort of situation.
10:00: We learn that our next spot has been moved. We now have 10 minutes to get in place. I am suddenly quite relieved I didn’t sneak out to get a burrito.
10:10: We perform Americans We for our final spot. It was a very early, but rewarding morning.
Afterwards: By the time I sat down to eat lunch, I had been up over nine hours. But I felt good knowing I’d been part of such an important event. I later heard from my mother and aunt that they saw me on national television. Not a bad day at the office! I should have gone to bed early that night, but instead I stayed up watching hockey. (What can I say? The Devils needed me.) When I finally did hit the sack, I slept well knowing the West Point Band did a job well done.
Words by Staff Sgt. Phil Stehly
Image by Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers