News: 440th Army Band brings NCNG into the community
Story by Capt. Rick Scoggins
RALEIGH, N.C. – It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Music, like a picture, can also inspire us and move us to action as well.
The North Carolina National Guard’s 440th Army Band has that task. Their mission is to perform for troops and their families and for the citizens of North Carolina at ceremonies, public concerts, and parades. These concerts are often the first interaction the public has with the N.C. Guard.
“The overall mission is to provide music to instill in our soldiers the will to fight and win, foster the support of our citizens and promote patriotism in our national interests at home and abroad,” said Army Staff Sgt. Devin West, who plays a number of different instruments and serves as the band’s supply noncommissioned officer.
The 440th is currently composed of 34 members and traces their roots back to World War II where they served as the 30th Infantry Division’s band. The band also served with distinction landing on the beach at Normandy and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge for which the band carries honors awarded by France and Belgium.
Since the band was re-designated in 1973, they have performed in two concert tours in the Virgin Islands, and toured Guatemala, Morocco, Costa Rica, and Italy. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Band has performed over 500 ceremonies for deploying and returning North Carolina National Guardsmen and their families.
“We love doing what we do,” said Army Staff Sgt. David West.
West is an accomplished musician who plays a number of instruments. West plays traditional patriotic music in the 440th’s concert band and also plays bass guitar and sings in the unit’s rock band, called "Vanguard," a five-piece Pop and Rock combo that plays a wide selection of music from old-time rock and roll to country hits and current pop and rock.
As part of the band’s re-designation, they realized that there was a need to create sub sections in their unit that would be able to perform across a wide spectrum of genres, called Music Performance Teams. Today, the 440th has nearly ten different types of MPTs ranging from traditional concert and marching bands, jazz ensembles, brass and percussion teams to vocal ensembles and a rock band.
“With the different groups, we can appeal to all age groups and hit just about every genre of music,” said Army Sgt. Christopher McKinnon Jr., a percussionist and administrative NCO in the band.
According to Mckinnon, the band works works between 100-130 events per year and practice individually every day. McKinnon said the MPT concept helps to bring a more diverse capability for the band to serve in the community. As these different capabiltities became more known throughout the N.C. Guard and the community, the requests for these different types of performances began to increase.
“I love playing songs that move people,” said Staff Sgt. David West. “We can bring enjoyment to somebody’s day and at the same time, give them a positive representation of the Armed Services.”
The 440th’s various MPTs have performed the national anthem for local sports teams like the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and local minor league baseball team, Carolina Mudcats. The band has also played at local Veterans Affairs Hospitals and at inaugural events for the current and past Governors, as well as military balls and mobilization and demobilization ceremonies.
Because the bands mission is so unique, they often play events on holidays. When other service members are at home enjoying their holiday, the band is out stirring up patriotism and pride in our nation.
“It’s hard because we have to be away from our families on these holidays,” said McKinnon. “However, it truly is a badge of honor because we get to play ceremonies to honor the fallen service members.”
Recently, the band played a special performance on Memorial Day on the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina in Wilmington. The band is also playing a summer concert series traveling all over the state. The band even performed on July 4th at a concert in Badin.
“I have performed every 4th of July, Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day since 1994,” said Staff Sgt. Devin West. “I consider it a privilege to be able to perform for different communities each year. It is our way of giving back to the citizens for all of the support they give to our troops.”
All of the members of the band are professional musicians and some have even earned degrees in music as part of their obligation to military service.
According to Staff Sgt. David West, the Army employs more musicians than any other entity. He said that in his experience, playing in the band is a fantastic way to get paid for doing what you love.
The band successfully draws crowds when they play in the community.
“The 440th is very professional; they take care of everything,” said Zilphia Adcock, director of Performing Arts Johnston Community College in Smithfield at a recent concert. “They attract an audience that would not typically come to a concert and provide an opportunity for arts in the community.”
“Everyone in the 440th enjoys being a soldier musician,” said Staff Sgt. Devin West. “Music has a way of moving people and when it comes from a soldier it means that much more.”
The 440th Army Band is always looking for new opportunities to play. If you are interested in inviting them to play, you can find them on the band’s web page at: http://www.music.army.mil/organizations/pages/440 AB, “friend” them on their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/NCNationalGuard/pages/440th-Army-Band or follow them on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/440thArmyBand.