The Music Will Go On… Thoughts on Military Bands and Budget Cuts

The military has a variety of special duty assignments and jobs which fall under the radar. Some of them are assignments many service members aren’t even aware of. I had the pleasure of serving in one such duty assignment while I was in the USAF. In 2002 I toured with a group called Tops In Blue, which is an Air Force entertainment group which travels around the world putting on performances for military members and their communities. During our tour, we performed over 140 times at over 120 locations in 20+ countries and 30+ states – all in the span of about a year. It was, to put it mildly, the opportunity and experience of a lifetime.

military band budget cuts

Bands are part of our military heritage

During my tour with TIB (I was the lighting director), I had the pleasure of serving with 25 other Airmen, all of whom I consider to be good friends to this day. I have remained in touch with most of the people I toured with, and it’s fun to see how they are doing in their lives. Some have gone on to retire from the service, others, including myself, have separated to pursue other goals, and some are still serving in the USAF, Reserves, or ANG. Most are still pursuing their love and passion of music.

It was with pleasure that my wife and I got to see our good friend, SSgt. Angie Johnson still pursuing her dreams on NBCs The Voice. My wife and I both served with Angie and have followed her music through the years. Angie is still serving in the Missouri Air National Guard, with the band, Sidewinder, part of the 571st Air Force Band, 131st Bomb Wing, Air National Guard.

Angie’s journey to getting chosen to perform on The Voice is an interesting one. She transferred to the ANG band after separating from active duty, and during that time, she sang and recorded music in and around Nashville. She was even getting close to giving up her dream of making it big in the music industry and moving on with life, when something unexpected happened – an audience member shot a video of Sidewinder performing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” from a deployed location. That video, shot on a cell phone, and uploaded to YouTube, has been viewed over 2.7 million times at the time of this publication. You can see it below:

Angie Johnson and Sidewinder Performing “Rolling in the Deep”

The Power of a Story

The YouTube video going viral brought Angie and Sidewinder a lot of attention. From there, the press caught on, and Angie, and Sidewinder, became instant hits, with guest spots on Entertainment Tonight, The Ellen Degeneres Show, and several others. Staff Sgt. Brian Owens, a male vocalist from Sidewinder, was invited to perform “God Bless America” at the first game of the World Series. Angie was invited to perform the Nationl Anthem at a Seattle Seahawks game when the Seahawks had their Military Appreciation day. The door was opened, and the members of Sidewinder didn’t look back.

The Voice Came Calling

Angie was invited to try out for The Voice, and she was selected to perform on team Cee Lo. I had never watched the show before, but I became an instant fan – and not just because of Angie. There are a lot of talented performers on the show, and it’s very entertaining. Angie held her own alongside some of the best unsigned musical talent in the US. She has the ability to perform on stage with anyone.

Angie was on TV again last night, and though the results weren’t what her fans were hoping for, she sang well and brought a special energy to the performance. She has made all of us proud and she has brought a lot of positive attention to the military at a time when a lot of the media is focused on the negative. I can’t stress how proud I am of Angie and her band mates, and I wish all of them them the best as they go forward.

Air National Guard Bands Facing Budget Cuts

Unfortunately, they may soon be going in separate directions. Budget cuts are taking their toll, and 6 ANG bands, including Sidewinder, will get the ax by 2013. It’s an unfortunate side effect of troop draw downs and budget cuts. One fan set up an online petition to keep the bands going but it didn’t gain enough signatures to be elevated. Even if it had, it may not have been enough.

The military bands, in all branches of the military, perform a special service for troops. I recall seeing the bands and other MWR shows perform while I was deployed in Qatar and Afghanistan, and recall the effect the performances had on me. I also remember the experience of being a member of Tops In Blue as we traveled and performed throughout the Middle Eastern region, including performing in a bombed out building in Afghanistan less than a year after September 11th. Troops were perched on armored personnel carriers, on top of flat bed trailers, or sitting on pallets of military equipment. The breaks between the songs were filled with the sound of distant mortars and machine gun fire. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time we closed the show with “God Bless the USA.” Even the full bird Colonel standing next to me didn’t try to hide his tears.

There is a reason these bands and other military groups exist – and it is for the morale of our troops who are stationed in places most performers don’t want to go. I understand the bean counters in Washington see these bands as an easy way to cut funds, but I doubt most of them have been to places where they are really needed.

The Music Will Go On…

I know the members of Sidewinder and the 5 other bands which are being disbanded will continue to perform music. It’s part of who they are, and I wish them all the best in pursuit of their personal and professional goals. There are also other military bands and performance groups which will continue to visit the deployed locations and serve as morale boosters for the troops. I just hope this cut doesn’t lead to another cut, which leads to another cut, until the bands are gone. Military bands are a tradition, and they should be preserved.

Find More of Angie Online

This article is about military bands in general, not just Angie. But if you are interested in learning more about her, you can find her online at the following locations:

Best of luck to, Angie, Sidewinder, and all the military bands out there. Thanks for being such an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of troops, and millions of others across America and around the world!

Photo credit: The U.S. Army

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Date published: March 6, 2012.

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Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.


  1. says

    Thank you for this post. My husband performed for 6 years with the 41st Army Band in MS. They were never deployed, but did serve for commissioning and retirement ceremonies as well as provided entertainment for our troops based here at home. Additionally, he was an Army bugler, performing full military rites for the deceased – a service that there are far too few people to do. There are THOUSANDS of vets dying daily across our nation who have earned military honors at their burial and often the military has to resort to using a bugle that has a recording built into it (because no real bugler is availble) or they end up using a CD (or even a cassette) to play Taps. It’s a shame that men and women who have served cannot have a simple song played that holds so much meaning. Thanks for bringing these servicemen and women to everyone’s attention.

    • says

      Kaye, thanks for sharing your husband’s story. I hate to see the military band cuts as well, as they are such a large part of our military heritage. Unfortunately, the powers that be decided budgets cuts take precedence right now.

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