ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. “â€ Military bagpipers are a unique sight in Washington, D.C., especially clad in official Air Force tartan kilts and lining the steps of the U.S. Capitol. So unique, in fact, the pipe band of the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve is the only professional pipe band in the Department of Defense. On March 20, they performed four missions for President Barack Obama and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
The pipers have performed this mission every year since 1995, but this year’s performance may be their last due to the scheduled deactivation plan because of the fiscal year 13 budget cuts.
“We did arrival and departure ceremonies for the president, vice president, speaker of the house and the prime minister of Ireland at the U.S. Capitol,” said Maj. Donald Schofield, commander of the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve. “We were also asked to perform at the White House for a party in honor of the prime minister of Ireland.”
Chief Master Sgt. Mark Burditt, band manager, said eight reservists and two National Guardsmen from other career fields augmented the Reserve band, which is made of active-duty Airmen.
“These were professional level pipers from around the country who volunteered to augment the pipe band; some of them for their last time,” he said.
Along with Tech. Sgt. Ryan Miles, drum major, Master Sgt. Benny Hill piped the president, the speaker of the house and the Irish prime minister from the Capitol chamber to the Rayburn Room where a luncheon was held.
“It was a very special evening for us because the president and first lady wanted to meet with us,” Schofield said. “They took time with each member, shook their hands, spoke to them and the president said to the entire group, ‘Thank you for the music, but more importantly, thank you for your service to our country.’ We also got to speak with the Speaker of the House John Boehner. He thanked us for our time, and the arrival and departure ceremony.”
The band’s third mission was to play for the arrival of the guest at the carriage entrance of the White House. The last mission of the day was a 12-minute performance for 500 guests inside the White House.
“This was great visibility for Air Force Reserve Command,” Burditt said. “Several congressional staffers, who we worked directly with, and congressmen, who came up and talked to us while we were there, were not aware that the Reserve command had a pipe band.”
The White House requests the pipe band every year. Burditt worked for about two months with the White House and security staffs to formulate the details of the events. This included everything from making sure adequate routes were planned and ensuring the security needs of the Capitol police and Secret Service were met.
“Secret Service and Capitol Police are warm, gracious and understanding,” Schofield said. “They were extremely helpful and very courteous. We had a great time with them.”
The goal of musicians is to connect emotionally with their audiences, and the bagpipers were able to project the Air Force image and the Air Force Reserve image to a worldwide audience, according to Schofield. He said he saw people weeping with emotion at times during the band’s performances.
“From a commander’s perspective, this was an amazing opportunity for the Air Force and Air Force Reserve to get international visibility,” Schofield said. “From a musician’s perspective, it’s a tremendous honor to play for the president, members of congress and international heads of state. It’s an honor to be able to represent the Air Force Reserve through the universal language of music.”
In the few days since the event, the band returned home to Georgia for a performance at Wesleyan College in Macon, and during the 30th Annual Macon Georgia’s International Cherry Blossom Festival. Members of the Reserve band then went back to Washington for multiple performances, including a retirement ceremony and the AFR Senior Leader Conference.
“Life on the road is fast and furious, as we have a nationwide mission,” said Schofield.
The Air Force pipe band is part of the Band of the Air Force Reserve based at Robins AFB, Ga.. Elements of the Reserve band perform an average of 279 missions annually in support of Regular Air Force and Air Force Reserve mission taskings.