29th ID Band’s efforts rewarded with ASUA

Brig. Gen. Lapthe Flora, Virginia National Guard Assistant Adjutant General-Army, presents the Army Superior Unit Award to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donald Carlson, the commander of the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band, before the Virginia’s Veterans Parade Nov. 9, 2019, in Roanoke, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Maj. Jenny K. Hartsock)

ROANOKE, Va. — The Virginia National Guard’s Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band received the Army Superior Unit Award streamer from Brig. Gen. Lapthe Flora, VNG Assistant Adjutant General-Army, during a ceremony Nov. 9, 2019, before the Virginia Veterans Parade in Roanoke, Virginia.

“I was honored to present the 29th ID Band with the Army Superior Unit Award on behalf of the 29th ID commanding general, and it was very fitting that we presented the award in front of their hometown crowed in Roanoke before the Virginia Veterans Parade,” Flora said. “The Soldiers of the 29th ID Band serve as ambassadors for the Virginia National Guard at events across the commonwealth as well as overseas, and I couldn’t be more proud of the job they do. Earning the ASUA is not easy, and it recognized the hard work and dedication of all the members of their band and their outstanding leadership.”

The band earned the ASUA for their successes between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2017. That period included a short-notice deployment for a contingent of their Soldiers to Kuwait. During the deployment, the band performed ceremonial music during two events, including a hand-off from the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division to the Fort Leavenworth-based 35th ID, and an awards ceremony for a chemical company. 

“It allowed nine members of the band an opportunity to do their wartime mission of providing music throughout the full spectrum of operations,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donald Carlson, the band’s commander. 

(U.S. National Guard photo by Maj. Jenny K. Hartsock)

At the same time as the deployment, the band was also completing a much different mission: moving into a new facility in Troutville. The band had been based out of the now-closed Clifton Forge Readiness Center, and moved into the new Roanoke Regional Readiness Center, all without slowing down their tempo of operations. 

“The band has always maintained a high operational tempo despite the many distractors such as moving the unit to new facilities, deployments, possible deployments or non-musical training that needs to be completed,” said Carlson. “The performances on the deployment and all of the ceremonies and concerts that we performed all contributed to the band earning this award.”

For members of the band, seeing their hard work recognized with an award like the ASUA is gratifying, but won’t change the band’s mission. 

“The 29th Division Band has a rich and respected legacy and I think this award continues that tradition,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Bradshaw, trombone player and group leader. “We are committed to always doing what is needed to promote the Virginia Army National Guard. Winning this award will not change our focus, it just provides a level of appreciation that what we do is important to the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“It is nice to know that the leadership recognizes the hard-work and high operational tempo enough to support getting an award for it,” agreed Carlson. 

(U.S. National Guard photo by Maj. Jenny K. Hartsock)

The band has several large performances already scheduled for the next year or two, including performing ceremonial music at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia in June of 2020, and performing at the inauguration for the next Virginia governor in 2022. 

The 29th Infantry Division Band has a long history of excellence, including during World War II, when 80 band Soldiers came ashore at Normandy three days after D-Day. There, the band served as litter bearers and provided assistance to mortuary affairs before moving out as two 40-member bands in an effort to entertain combat troops. To the band’s commander, earning the ASUA is just a fraction of that historic legacy. 

“The 29th ID Band’s legacy is huge and this is a small part of it,” said Carlson. “I could not say that it comes close to anything that Warrant Officer Ralph Shank and the band members who participated in the D-Day invasion did in support of the occupation of France during World War II. Hopefully, we are just doing justice to the legacy by doing all that we can to support the 29th Division and the Virginia Army National Guard.”

The 29th Infantry Division Band contains seven musical performance teams. These include the concert band, marching band, ceremonial band (The Normandy Winds), rock band (Easy Green), brass ensemble (Normandy Brass), clarinet ensemble, and the fife and drum ensemble. Additionally the band has a color guard and a sound reinforcement team.

According to Carlson, the Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division Band perform an average of 45 missions per year, half of which are community support events. Unlike the other half of their missions, these are performed for civilian audiences, many of whom have limited knowledge about the Virginia National Guard. At the end of every concert, attendees are encouraged to talk with Soldiers to learn more about their mission, the Virginia National Guard and the military in general.