WARNER ROBINS -- When the news hit Tuesday that the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve at Robins Air Force Base will fall to the budget ax, Master Sgt. Bill Granger described the reaction among members as “a little bit of shock and awe.”
It wasn’t a complete surprise, though, since the Air Force has been cutting everything else, said Granger, the band superintendent.
“We knew we were going to play in it somehow,” he said. “You can’t ask folks to stand down fighter wings and not stand down a band. It’s just sad, and it’s unfortunate it happened here.”
The last performance of the full 45-member band will be the annual Independence Day concert in Warner Robins, which the band organizes each year. It’s uncertain whether the concert will continue once the band leaves. Last year’s concert featured country music star Wynonna Judd and drew thousands of spectators.
The Air Force currently has 13 bands nationwide, with each responsible for a region. Members perform either as the full concert band or in small specialty groups at various events, including change of command, retirements and other ceremonies.
The Air Force is cutting three of those bands, and the regions will be reorganized. Georgia will now be covered by the Band of the West stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
No one is being forced out of a job in the band closures, Granger said. Members will have the opportunity to move to other bands. The Air Force is ultimately looking to cut 105 band positions, but that will come through attrition as older members retire or separate.
Airman 1st Class Adam Tianello, the Air Force’s first official bagpipe player, is a native of New York and said he has enjoyed the community atmosphere in Warner Robins and the support for the band. But he also said moving to another band can be a good thing.
“It gives us the opportunity to go somewhere new and expand our horizons,” he said.
Although attached to Robins Air Force Base, the band for the last eight years has called the former Belk area of the Houston Mall its home. A building had been under construction to bring the band back to the base, but that will be designated for another use now, said Jim Miller, spokesman for Air Force Reserve Command.
The shutdown will be a gradual process. Members will transfer to other bands this summer, as they normally do each year anyway, only this time replacements will not come in to the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Granger said band members will continue performing in small groups through June 2013, when the band will completely shut down. That will give a couple of months for members to relocate until the new 10-band structure officially goes into effect Oct. 1, 2013.
According to its website, the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve is the oldest Air Force band in continuous service. It was founded in 1941 at Mitchell Field, N.Y., as the First Air Force Band.
It went through various name changes and moves until it ended up at Robins in 1961, where it was called the 581st Air Force Band. It assumed its present name in 1968 when Headquarters Air Force Reserve replaced Continental Air Command.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.