Soldiers in the Spotlight 2014

Each month we spotlight and celebrate Soldiers for their special contributions to The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” Their roles are all different, and they come from diverse backgrounds, but they are all American Soldiers serving their country through music. Each month has been designated a special tribute or theme, and Soldiers were chosen based on this criteria. We hope you enjoy learning more about these world-class Army Band musicians who strive to inspire, educate, and entertain audiences every day!

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SGM Richard Wilkins

SGM Richard Wilkins, euphonium

SGM Richard Wilkins, a native of Spartanburg, SC, graduated from Lander University in Greenwood, SC. Having joined The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in 1982, he will retire in January of 2015 with over thirty-two years of service to the Army. His spent his entire career with the unit as a euphonium player in The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band. Additionally, he served as Unit Historian/Archivist, Unit Retention NCO, Training NCOIC, and Promotions Board Recorder. Notably, he also spent twenty-two years as a Taekwondo Instructor at Fort Belvoir, VA, and has earned a 6th Degree Black Belt and his National Referee Certification.

SGM Wilkins jokingly says, “I’m too old to remember my earliest musical memories,” yet he cites numerous opportunities to perform with the esteemed U.S. Army Herald Trumpets as major highlights of his career. Some of his most notable performances with “The Heralds” include presidential inaugural events for every Commander in Chief from President Ronald Reagan to President Barack Obama; White House Ceremonies for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and South African President Nelson Mandela; and performances for the United Nations delegation in California and New York (the latter in which South African activist Bishop Desmond Tutu was the Presenter). He also fondly remembers performances with “Pershing’s Own” in the National Military Tattoo in Breda, Holland; the Special Olympics in Alaska and Connecticut; and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA.

Of his time in service with The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” SGM Wilkins states he is “honored to have had the experience and privilege to serve with some of our nation’s very best musicians, to include all professionals from other military branches as well. I still remain in awe of the awesome talents and expertise of my colleagues at “Pershing’s Own” and consider the opportunity to spend my Army career with such gifted Soldier Musicians to be the absolute epitome of any musician’s career.”


SGM Manuel Bobenrieth

SGM Manuel Bobenrieth, accordionist

Sergeant Major Manuel Bobenrieth has been an accordionist with The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” since 1986. Originally from Concepcion, Chile, his family immigrated to the United States in 1968 when his father, a medical doctor, was offered a job with the World Health Organization. He remembers the transition to life in America fondly, “people were friendly and made our family feel welcome, even at a time when not nearly as many Hispanics lived in the US as they do today.”

It was SGM Bobenrieth’s father who encouraged him to play the accordion at the young age of five. Consequently, his earliest musical memory involves playing the accordion for his family and his father’s friends. SGM Bobenrieth studied accordion with Carmelo Pino, considered to be one of America’s finest teachers on this instrument. “He was not just a great accordionist, but also a great musician. He actually taught me how to be a professional in many ways.”

A consummate Soldier, SGM Bobenrieth is extremely proud to serve his country, and he has handed down this sense of service to his children. His daughter, 1LT Emily Phillips, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is in her second year of law school at the University of Colorado at Boulder studying to become a JAG Officer. SGM Bobenrieth’s son, 2LT Vincent Bobenrieth, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and is currently assigned to the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

Although he’s had the privilege to perform for presidents, kings and queens, and numerous dignitaries, “my most memorable performance while a member of ‘Pershing’s Own’ was playing for our Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center during the holidays.”

SGM Bobenrieth became the element leader of The U.S. Army String’s in January of 2004, and has felt extremely gratified to work with amazing Soldiers who want to tell the story of America’s Army through music. Not only is he the only accordionist within “Pershing’s Own”, he is the only Soldier with this Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) identifier in the entire U.S. Army.

SFC Pablo Talamante

SFC Pablo Talamante, tenor

SERGEANT FIRST CLASS PABLO TALAMANTE joined The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in 1992, and continues to serve as a tenor vocalist with The U.S. Army Chorus. Born in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico, he was the youngest of nine children. Throughout his high school years, he studied theatre at the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City. He continued his studies at the University of Louisville where he received a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance in 1990. He is currently continuing his studies towards a Master of Music from The Catholic University of America’s Latin American Center for Graduate Studies in Music. He is also trilingual, equally comfortable speaking and singing in English, Italian, and Spanish.

Interestingly enough, SFC Talamante recalls that some of his earliest musical memories were of entertaining his father’s friends just before popular boxing matches in Mexico at the age of 10. When asked what has made him the unique performer he is today, SFC Talamante replied, “Perhaps it is my vast repertoire of semi-Classical Ranchera Music…my knowledge of Latino-American music…or,” he adds with a smile, “perhaps that I appeared on television in Mexican soap operas.” His dramatic yet sensitive vocal talents set him apart as well. By personal request, SFC Talamante recently performed for Queen Sofia of Spain at the United Nations in New York City in 2014, performing Augustain Lara’s classic standard, “Granada.”

Although he cites Schubert song cycles as his most challenging repertoire to tackle, SFC Talamante’s true passion is clearly that of Italian opera. His “Favorites” listening list includes “anything by Puccini…opera arias sung by the great Italian tenor, Franco Corelli…and recordings of Puccini’s opera, Turandot, with Corelli singing the role of Calàf,” as his favorites of all time. His impressive, dramatic vocal range and color earned him a position with The Washington Opera Chorus, and he won a 2006 “Wammy” (Washington Area Music Award) in the category “Best Folk Recording” for his work with the Choral Arts Society of Washington. Not satisfied to be ‘just another singer,’ he also plays piano, harmonica, drums, and guitar.

SFC Talamante comes by his dedication to military service naturally. His grandfather, Rómulo Díaz Brown, a captain in the Mexican Army from 1914 to 1919, lead the 38th Regiment of Gatling Guns (forerunner of the machine gun) through Mexico at the same time General John J. Pershing (The U.S. Army Band’s founder), accompanied by then Lieutenant George S. Patton, arrived in Sonora, Mexico, on their quest to find Pancho Villa in 1916! “Love of country is why I am proud to serve in the U.S. Army. I can say without question that singing at the funeral for President Ronald Reagan and all that performance stood for was the most memorable moment of my military career.” His advice to young musicians: “Be a conduit of love and peace through music.”


SFC Eli Gonzalez

SFC Eli Gonzalez, saxophone

Sergeant First Class Cesar Eli Gonzalez joined The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in 2001 following the completion of his bachelor’s degree in music at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. A versatile saxophonist assigned to The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band, he has also performed with a number of other elements within the unit: The U.S Army Concert Band, Ceremonial Band, Blues, Downrange, Strings, and with various small unit chamber groups. SFC Gonzalez grew up in South Texas speaking both English and Spanish, and he fondly remembers listening to Tejano music “as a kid” with his father.

“The best thing about being in the military,” for SFC Gonzalez “is having a true sense of patriotism. There is something about being an Active Duty Soldier that gives me an almost tangible sense of pride and patriotism for our country. I love that feeling.” When asked what his most memorable experience has been so far as a member of “Pershing’s Own, ” he responded, “Playing for our deployed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the Sergeant Major of the Army’s Hope and Freedom Tour 2007. There just isn’t anything like bringing a smile to a deployed Soldier’s face during Christmas time. It was easily the most rewarding musical experience I’ve ever had.”

SFC Gonzalez is a popular member of “Pershing’s Own.” He has the unique ability to take a tough situation and “make enough jokes about it that it becomes tolerable and maybe even enjoyable.” Ever the optimist, “I try to take advantage of every beautiful thing life throw my way.”

Selections on SFC Gonzalez’s playlist include jazz, R&B, classical, rock, blues, country, et al. “I very regularly change up what’s on my iPod. Right now I’m really into the blues.” He doesn’t feel he has any favorite recordings basically because “there are just too many to list!” He goes on to explain, “My musical tastes and favorites are ever-evolving. And I like it that way!” His favorite composers include, but are not limited to, Wayne Shorter, Dmitri Shostakovich, Stevie Wonder, John Lennon, Thad Jones, and Frederic Chopin.

Not to limit his musical prowess to the saxophone, SFC Gonzalez also regularly plays flute, clarinet, guitar, and sings. His advice for aspiring musicians: “Spend at least as much time listening to music as you would put into practicing.”

SSG Victor Barranco

SSG Victor Barranco, trombone

Staff Sergeant Victor Manuel Barranco currently serves as a trombonist in The U.S. Army Blues, and also actively performs as a guest artist at jazz festivals and universities. He joined the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in 2009 and admits “I am a solider 24/7 and I live and breathe the world’s greatest Army.” He says joining the military was a complete lifestyle change for him and recalls his first rehearsal with the Army Blues was truly his most memorable performance. “Right away, I knew I was sitting next to the closest, best friends I could ever ask for.”

SSG Barranco holds a bachelor’s degree in Trombone Performance from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, as well as a master’s degree from the University of North Texas. The majority of his college studies were in classical trombone, with a goal towards playing in a major orchestra and teaching at a local university. “But I never was called for orchestral gigs…I played ‘salsa gigs’ to pay my rent!” While at the University of North Texas, he worked to raise his level of jazz playing to match his classical capabilities, and made it a point to learn as much jazz repertoire as possible.

Following graduation, SSG Barranco landed a six-months tour with the Broadway musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” featuring Golden Globe Award-winning actor Topol reviving his stage and film portrayal of “Tevye.” Then, just as he was booked to go on tour with the musical, “101 Dalmatians,” SSG Barranco got a phone call from Army Blues Sergeant Major Matthew Niess regarding a trombone vacancy with the group. As an alumnus of the Army Band’s notable Eastern Trombone Workshop, he knew to jump at this opportunity for an audition.

A native of North Pole, Alaska, SSG Barranco’s earliest musical memories go back to summer family trips. Both parents, born and raised in Puerto Rico, would drive the family from Alaska to Miami, Florida, where they caught a flight to Puerto Rico. “I remember one particular trip when the whole family went to a merengue festival and I was dancing on the sidelines with my grandmother.”

Throughout his childhood, SSG Barranco knew he wanted to play the biggest instrument in the band, the tuba. That all changed at the age of nine when he saw the slide move on the trombone for the first time. “By middle school, I wrote a ‘When I Grow Up’ paper about how I wanted to play the trombone for a living. So I knew at an early age I wanted to make music for the rest of my life.” Although neither parent was a musician, SSG Barranco remembers his father’s constant reminders to practice scales saying, ‘They never sound quite right.’ “My parents always listened to salsa and merengue music at home. When we traveled to Miami on our road trips, we would listen to the music of groups like Tower of Power and Chicago, so I was always immersed in the horn sections for all these groups. I have to thank my parents for that.”

In his free time, he enjoys being out in his garage building cutting boards, dining tables, kitchen islands, or any project that comes his way. “Woodworking is not only therapeutic, it helps clear my head when I enter my practice sessions. It’s great to be passionate about something other than music to help balance your brain.”

You will find his favorite recordings, Count Basie’s Live at the Sands, Tower of Power’s What is Hip, and Marc Anthony’s Cellos on his iPad, and SSG Barranco’s advice to aspiring musicians: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar…that’s how you should live your life.”

SSG Christopher E. Buckley

SSG Christopher Buckley, euphonium

Staff Sergeant Christopher E. Buckley joined The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band as a euphonium player in June of 2011. A native of Laredo, Texas, he holds a Bachelor of Music Education from West Texas A&M University, and a master’s degree and doctorate in Euphonium Performance from the University of North Texas (UNT).

Professionally, SSG Buckley has performed some of the most challenging pieces written for his instrument including Martin Ellerby’s Euphonium Concerto. Since becoming a member of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” he has had the opportunity to perform as soloist with The U.S. Army Concert Band at the Capitol steps and at the World War II Memorial. Notably, he has performed the 4th movement of Ellerby’s Concerto with the Concert Band in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to a crowd of 10,000, and performed with The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets and the Los Angeles Philharmonic with John Williams conducting.

As a Soldier, SSG Buckley feels his daily participation in full honor funerals in Arlington National Cemetery for veterans, Soldiers, and their families “has had the greatest impact on me. My father was a Marine who fought in the Korean War, and hearing “Taps” played at his funeral meant a lot to me. So I know how much hearing our music means to the families of those Soldiers.”

SSG Buckley’s eclectic musical tastes range from Bobby McFerrin to Tchaikovsky, and include Ben Folds, Stevie Wonder, Queen, J.S. Bach, Prokofiev, and the Kings Singers. However, he names The Cincinnati Wind Symphony’s recording, “American Variations” with conductor Eugene Corporon and featuring his UNT euphonium teacher, Dr. Brian Bowman, as his favorite recording to date. In addition to the euphonium, SSG Buckley also plays the trombone, tuba, didgeridoo, and ukulele.

His earliest musical memory is singing “”Hokey Pokey,” “Ten Little Indians,” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” in kindergarten.” As you can see, his sense of humor helps him to stand out, but he admits, “so does my annoying optimism.” For aspiring musicians, “the best advice I can give is work hard and be a good person. If you just do those two things you’ll be successful at whatever you do.”

SSG Sonia Candelaria

SSG Sonia Candelaria, flute

One of the newest members of the flute section, SSG Sonia Candelaria has been with The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band since February, 2014. Originally from Alamogordo, NM, she received a master’s degree in music from the University of North Texas after completing her bachelor’s in music education at New Mexico State University. As soon as her cousin from Arizona showed her the flute, SSG Candelaria knew, even from a young age, that she would one day be a professional musician. She remembers thinking it was “so beautiful that I didn’t want to put it down.” Even all these years later, she still credits her cousin for inspiring her to begin playing the flute.

SSG Candelaria has experienced a great deal of diversity in her performance practice, most notably with the North Texas contemporary music ensemble, NOVA. The repertoire of this group challenged her musical abilities like no other, and she looks forward to continuing these difficult works with ensembles within “Pershing’s Own.” While Ravel and Mahler are her favorite composers, she is most inspired by the excellence of the Berlin Philharmonic recordings and will listen to everything recorded by flutists Mathieu Dufour and Emmanuel Pahud.

While with TUSAB, SSG Candelaria has played for three active duty funerals, each of which she counts as being the most memorable while a Soldier. “While I watch young families accept the American flags, I play ‘America, the Beautiful’ and am filled with a sense of pride that I will never forget. I hope that I can provide a sense of peace and gratitude for those families.” As a Soldier, she is struck by the great sense of purpose engendered by her job. “Whether in Arlington National Cemetery for a funeral or at a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns, it is very humbling and I cherish every moment in which I can use my talent to give back to our bravest citizens.”

SSG Candelaria advises aspiring musicians to dedicate their lives to perfecting and sharing their skills. “Listen to live performances, practice everything slowly, listen to your sound, always be open to the teachings of other musicians, and stay true to yourself and what you want to contribute to the world.” Her optimistic view on life is recognized quickly by her colleagues because she knows that a strong work ethic is the key to personal and professional success. “I strive to make my good qualities great: seeing beauty in life and appreciating all that surrounds us. It’s not always easy to do this in the workplace or behind a music stand, but if we focus on how we can make a difference, our lives will be that much better.”


CSM Mitchell D. Spray

CSM Mitchell D. Spray, command sergeant major

Command Sergeant Major Mitchell D. Spray was appointed Command Sergeant Major of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in September 2011. Prior to his appointment as third Command Sergeant Major of the premier musical organization of the U.S. Army, Spray served as Drum Major of The U.S. Army Band since 2001. Originally from McConnelsville, Ohio, he enlisted in the Army in 1982 and in 1992 joined the ranks of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.”

During his career at “Pershing’s Own,” he has been a featured bass trombone soloist with The U.S. Army Concert Band and Brass Band, and has performed with the organization at military tattoos in Norway and Australia.

Command Sgt. Maj. Spray attended Ohio University in Athens and graduated in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in music. His duty station prior to arriving at “Pershing’s Own was at the Army School of Music as trombone instructor. Other military highlights include the completion of the Primary Leadership Development Course (distinguished graduate), Basic NCO Course, Advanced NCO Course, and the Battalion Pre-Command and Command Sergeant’s Major Course at the Command and General Staff College. His military awards include the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Award, the Army Achievement Award, and the designation as Master Training Specialist at the Armed Forces School of Music.

As Drum Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Spray has had the distinct honor of leading a 99-piece element of “Pershing’s Own” in several inaugural parades and state funeral processions. Spray has performed with the Eastern Virginia Brass, the Virginia Beach Pops, the Virginia Symphony, the Virginia Opera, the Arlington Symphony, and the Maryland Symphony, and the Commonwealth Brass. He enjoys playing the electric bass in a worship band at church near his home in Manassas, Virginia, where he lives with his wife Becky. They have two children, Amanda and Matthew, and four grandchildren.

SGM James F. Roberts

SGM James F. Roberts, guitar

SGM Roberts has been a member of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” since 1986. Previously, he was a member of The U.S. Army Field Band from 1979 to 1986. SGM Roberts is originally from Washington, DC, and plays bass guitar, mandolin, banjo, and ukelele in addition to playing the guitar. He attended one year of school at Berklee College of Music before embarking on his Army career of 35 years.

SGM Roberts’ earliest musical memory is listening to “Meet the Beatles” on LP and Cannonball Adderley on the radio when he was about six years old. His current list of favorite composers consists of Duke Ellington, Franz Schubert, Bob Florence, Donald Fagen, and Antonin Dvorak, and some of his favorite recordings include Donald Fagen, Kamakiriad, and any recording by Bob Florence, the Eagles, the Police, or Billy Joel. Things currently on his music playlist include Ed Bickert and Bryan Johanson. He lists Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo as the most challenging work for guitar, along with “a decent, coherent chorus of blues.”

Of his most memorable performances as a member of “Pershing’s Own,” he remembers hearing “3000 service members sing ‘God Bless America’ in an unheated aircraft hanger during a USO Christmas tour to Afghanistan in 2004.”

SGM Roberts’ advice to aspiring musicians is to “perfect your art but play to the crowd.”

MSG Bill Holmes

MSG Bill Holmes, trombone

Master Sergeant Bill Holmes joined The U.S. Army Band in 1982 and retires this year as a member of the Army Blues. Originally from Philadelphia, PA, MSG Holmes’ first musical memory is playing trumpet with his father. From those humble beginnings, he has learned to play euphonium, trumpet, tuba and joined “Pershing’s Own” on trombone. He attended Temple University for his Bachelors in Music Education and received his Master of Music degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. MSG Holmes appreciates his time in the military during which he learned “how to push through my resistance and achieve results against all odds.”

While a member of “Pershing’s Own,” MSG Holmes has had opportunities to play some of the most challenging music in some of the most prestigious venues in the country. He has played at the Montreux Jazz Festival and for the inauguration of President Obama, both of these he counts as his most memorable performances with The U.S. Army Band. Always expanding his musical horizions, MSG Holmes feels the most difficult piece he has played is Paul Creston’s Fantasy for Trombone, which has been recorded by the world’s greatest trombone players.

Any jazz musician worth his salt has an extensive library of the genre’s greatest recordings, and MSG Holmes is no exception. Included in his collection are his favorite recordings: JJ Johnson’s JJ Inc, Freddie Hubbard’s Hub Tones, and Count Basie’s Live at the Sands. His favorite composer, however, is Beethoven, showing that a well rounded musician is not defined by one genre. Indeed, his advice to aspiring musicians is to “perform in as many different ensembles and musical situations as you can.” He adds that a good sense of humor can get you through any difficult situation, as it has done for him during his exemplary 32 year career with The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.”


SGM Craig Lauinger

SGM Craig R. Lauinger, chief recording engineer

Sergeant Major Craig R. Lauinger joined “Pershing’s Own” in 1990 and serves the Army as a recording engineer in the Support section of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” He received his bachelor’s degree in audio engineering, attending Indiana University and American University. From Newberg, Oregon, SGM Lauinger’s earliest musical memory is of his parents rehearsing music in their living room. In addition to immersing himself into audio engineering, he also learned to play percussion.

As a recording engineer, SGM Lauinger finds troubleshooting faulty equipment among the most challenging of problems. Among the many skills he has learned while a Soldier in the Army, he counts personnel management and conflict resolution as the having had the largest impact on him as a person. Although, he takes his job as a member of “Pershing’s Own” very seriously, SGM Lauinger has a good sense of humor and comedic timing. When asked what makes him stand out, he dryly quipped “I am somewhat taller than average.”

In 2008 and 2010, SGM Lauinger went on temporary duty with the Sergeant Major of the Army’s “Hope and Freedom” Tours in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. These missions were the most memorable of his career as a Soldier. Also in 2008, The U.S. Army Band recorded a album with a small ensemble made up of members of The U.S. Army Blues, called The Swamp Romp. SGM Lauinger rates this album as his favorite. Again when asked what’s on his iPod, the funny Sergeant Major claims that as an avid supporter of Army music, he only has well performed Army Band recordings loaded on his iPod. His penchant for popular music is apparent as he claims his favorite composers are Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

The sage SGM Lauinger advises aspiring audio engineers and musicians, alike, to “never settle for less than your best…and don’t ever ‘phone’ it in.”

MSG Beverly Benda

MSG Beverley Benda, public affairs specialist/vocalist

Master Sergeant Beverley Benda joined The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in 1987 to perform with the Army Chorale as a Soprano. Currently serving as a Public Affairs Specialist with the unit, she says about herself, “I’m truly a team player and work very hard to have a positive attitude about everyone and everything, and I try to always have a sense of humor.”

An Air Force Brat by birth, she picks Alexandria, Virginia, as her hometown. She has earned degrees from James Madison University, Eastern Illinois University, and a DMA and Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music.

MSG Benda’s earliest musical memory goes back to singing with her mom at the piano “from birth” and performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Little Buttercup” for an audience at age 5. Being able to play piano, guitar, and ukulele on top of her vocal skills, her favorite recordings are very versatile. “Everything the Beatles, big band, and Carpenters, Krista Ludwig’s Mahler Kindertotenlieder, Franco Corelli’s Nessun Dorma, Dvorak symphonies, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and Second Symphony.”

When MSG Benda was given a chance to work with the unit’s Public Affairs Office (PAO), she says “I chose PAO because I have a background in journalism and know so much about the last 25 years of the band.” She of course still sings, but the American Holiday Festival 2011 was her last performance on stage before arriving at her desk in PAO the first week of January 2012. When asked about the difference between the two jobs: “There was no challenge switching over. I felt very welcome in PAO. The similarity in the two jobs is that the mission of both the Performer and the Public Affairs Specialist is to give a positive image of “Pershing’s Own” and the Army to the public. As a singer, I was in front of an audience making that happen; now I work behind the scenes helping to make that happen.”

Possessing excellent writing skills, MSG Benda is the scriptwriter and editor for the unit. She has created detailed script/production templates for the unit’s big productions like the American Holiday Festival shows and the Anniversary and 1812 concerts. What MSG Benda likes most about her job in PAO is being able to work one-on-one with more individual musicians and elements than she was able to do as a singer. “I work with PAO liaisons in charge of visitors and tours, recitals and concerto programs, tech support, videos, and so many more. Now I actually get to help in more areas of the organization and getting to know our newer soldiers to the unit is the great thing.”

In January 2016, MSG Benda plans to retire from the Army. “Knowing the caliber and character of the amazing musicians and technical support staff here at “Pershing’s Own,” I know the organization will remain strong and exciting long after I leave here.”

SFC Brian Archer

SFC BRIAN ARCHER, Audio Engineer

A native of Hilliard, Ohio, Sergeant First Class Brian Archer joined The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in 2007. A drummer by training, he is an audio engineer for the unit currently assigned to The U.S. Army Concert Band Support Team. “Working as a Soldier in the Army has its challenges, especially in a support role such as sound production,” reflects SFC Archer. “It has honed my ability to work in very time-crunched situations and always ‘deliver the goods’. We are often faced with limited notice for a performance or recording and have to be able to quickly provide a professional product. The U.S. Army Band Technical Support Team has some of the most skilled personnel in the production industry.”

SFC Archer goes on to explain, “The biggest challenge when recording any ensemble is being true to each composer’s intent, capturing not only the performance and making it sound correct with all the equipment available, but ultimately conveying their message to the listener via sound. As an audio engineer it can be easy to get caught up in the latest technology and trends but the point at the end of the day is to deliver the performance of the musician and the spirit of the composition to the listener.”

With technology ever advancing, SFC Archer feels audio engineering has become an integral part of every U.S. Army Band performance. More and more performances are broadcast live to countless listeners around the world. He reflects a deep passion for his work supporting the performing elements of “Pershing’s Own.” For every live show or recording, he works diligently to keep the performance as “intact and organic as possible while still making it bigger than life.” One of his first major missions with the unit was running the broadcast mix for the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Dedication Ceremony, September 2008. “It was such a highly visible event being broadcast to millions of viewers through every major news outlet. There was certainly the pressure of doing it right, but I really wanted to do it justice. With so many people watching, I really wanted them to feel what it was like to be there in person.”

Some of SFC Archer’s favorite recordings include AJA by Steely Dan, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and So by Peter Gabriel. He does not have a favorite composer because as he says ‘the moment I pick one it would probably change.’

SFC Archer is currently completing a bachelor’s degree in music production from Berklee College of Music with a major in Music Production. As a kid, he recalls “running around the house with my Mom blasting the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack - LP of course - on our gigantic console stereo.” His words of wisdom for aspiring musicians: “Everyone is capable of achieving some level of technical mastery on their instrument. Focus on how genuine your performance is…then make sure your audience can feel your performance.”


MSG Laura J. Lineberger

MSG Laura J. Lineberger, librarian/euphoniumist

Master Sergeant Laura J. Lineberger has been a librarian with The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” since 2000. Before joining the Army, she earned a Bachelor of Music Education from The Ohio State University and a Master of Music degree from the University of Maryland. She began her Army career as a member of “Pershing’s Own” in 1990, with the distinction of being the first female euphoniumist in the history of the band. Also, she performed with The U.S. Army Brass Band, an element of the band which is no longer active in the unit. Her most memorable performance as a musician, she recalls, was her final solo performance with The U.S. Army Orchestra, in which she played Carl Maria von Weber’s *Andante e Rondo Ungarese*.

MSG Lineberger recalls her transition from performing musician to working as a member of the unit support staff. “I agonized over the decision to move to a support position or to stay in the ceremonial band. I weighed my options and finally decided to take the position in the library,” she says. “Working behind the scenes is an often unrewarded position in the sense of not getting immediate applause for a job well done, but there is immense satisfaction in knowing the support element’s role in making The U.S. Army Band shine.”

Support positions in a military musical organization often come with additional duties. MSG Lineberger was selected to serve on the Joint Task Force-Armed Forces Inaugural Committee for President George W. Bush’s second term and was selected again for President Barack Obama’s first term. “Both of those temporary duty assignments were highlights of my career and enabled me to learn much about the high-profile ceremonial events that surround the presidential inaugural parades.”

MSG Lineberger’s iPod playlists consist of “an eclectic mix of classical, brass band, classic rock and roll, Gregorian chants, tango, pop/rock, country, and jazz,” though she states that she is partial to British-style brass band recordings. Her earliest musical memories are built around church hymns. “Many tunes still hold a soft place in my heart and instantly evoke fond family memories,” she explains. MSG Lineberger’s advice to aspiring musicians is to “listen, listen, listen.”

SFC Chris Branagan

SFC Chris Branagan, public affairs specialist/trombonist

Sergeant First Class Chris Branagan joined The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band in 2003 as a trombonist. Since 2009, he has taken on the responsibilities of a Public Affairs Specialist in the areas of public relations and social media, and heads up the unit’s photography division. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, SFC Branagan first remembers hearing live music at a “San Antonio Symphony Young People’s Concert. I was nine years old, in third grade, and I remember being amazed at the size and sound of the orchestra as they played the Overture from Rossini’s William Tell.” He received his Bachelors of Music degree in trombone performance from Texas Tech University and a Masters of Music degree from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow, Scotland. Once he finished his degrees, SFC Branagan earned a position with the San Antonio Symphony, the very ensemble that had imprinted his earliest musical memory.

SFC Branagan has a varied and diverse musical sensibility, enjoying everything from German art songs, to Steve Reich drumming music, to AC/DC covers by a blue grass band called Hayseed Dixie. As a brass player, he feels obliged to love Gustav Mahler, but also holds a strong affinity for American composers like Steve Reich. He changes his favorite recordings weekly: “Last week it was the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle performing Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8. The week before it was Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 with the New York Philharmonic. And this week, if I can admit a guilty pleasure, it’s Babel by Mumford and Sons.”

In addition to the trombone, he is forcing himself to learn piano and is fluent in Spanish. As he often mentions, versatility is the most important part of being a musician and for those aspiring musicians: “efficient, goal-oriented practice can produce results much faster and more consistently than hammering away at excerpts for hours and hours.” These tenants of efficiency and versatility have helped him to stand out during his exemplary career thus far.

As a member of “Pershing’s Own,” SFC Branagan has performed for the Queen of England at the 400th Anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, has met American composer John Adams, and has conducted Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, an event he counts as being one of the most “musically fulfilling experiences” of his career. However, there is a “visual” impact the band gives to its mission that goes beyond the music, a fact SFC Branagan learned during events for the State Funeral of President Ronald Reagan. The funeral took place on the hottest day of the year in 2004 and despite the physical challenges for the musicians playing in the grueling heat, wearing wool uniforms, and standing on asphalt, they distinguished themselves to the public. The pride that he feels when someone thanks him for his service has impacted his life not only as a musician, but as a Soldier.


SGM Mercy Diez

SGM Mercy A. Diez, vocalist

Originally from Cebu City, Philippines, Sergeant Major Mercy A. Diez is no stranger to how diversity can enhance one’s career. She began singing at the tender age of five and joined the Army in 1989, not as a musician but in the military intelligence field. Fluent in Visayan, Tagalog, English, and her native language, SGM Diez attended The Defense Language Institute and was then stationed in Korea as a military intelligence interrogator. While there, she won a talent competition that earned her a place on the roster of the 1991 Soldier’s Show that tours the U.S. each year entertaining American soldiers. She was spotted by members of “Pershing’s Own” and was transferred to the band within months. When she joined an annual contingent of army band musicians who went “downrange” to entertain our soldiers stationed in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan during the holidays, they inspired a change within the unit and the rock band “Downrange” was born. SGM Diez clearly cites those tours as the most memorable performances of her career.

A popular free-lance musician, SGM Diez works with local musicians lending her talents to songwriters and recording projects. She has sung back-up vocals for famous recording artists in venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Grand Ole Opry. She also coaches young, up-and-coming artists in performance practices and contemporary vocal techniques.

Her musical inspiration comes from varied artists such as Quincy Jones and Pink. “Bad” by Michael Jackson and “The Lion, The Beast, The Beat” by Grace Potter and The Nocturnals are amongst her favorite recordings. She urges aspiring musicians to “play from the heart and put your own spin on it.” When asked what makes her stand out, she replied, “I aim to always entertain, connect with the audience, and involve them in the moment.” We couldn’t agree more!

MSG Lane Shioji

MSG Lane Shioji, clarinet

“A musical group with several stand-outs does not sound very good. It is all about working together to create a single cohesive ensemble. That is when a group makes beautiful music.” So says Master Sergeant Lane Shioji who joined The United States Army Field Band in 1992 before earning a position with The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in 1996. Currently a Clarinetist and Producer for The U.S. Army Concert Band, he says the military’s biggest impact on him as a person has been the “numerous opportunities to see the United States and the world.” He is amazed that he has toured 48 of 50 states, missing only Idaho and Alaska to date.

A native of El Paso, Texas, MSG Shioji’s earliest musical memory goes back to singing in his church at the age of 4 or 5. As a child, he studied the piano, then added clarinet, and briefly studied flute and saxophone during college. His degrees include a Bachelor of Music from Baylor University, and a Master of Music and Performer’s Certificate from Northwestern University. His teachers include Robert Marcellus, Clark Brody, Steve Barta, and Richard Shanley. “There are numerous challenging modern pieces for clarinet. While I was attending music school, the clarinet concertos of John Corigliano, Jean Fracaix, and Carl Nielsen were, and still are, very difficult.” He names recordings of the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Maestro George Szell as his favorite recordings.

As a third generation Japanese American, MSG Shioji wishes he spoke more of his family’s native tongue, but was proud to have been selected to portray a World War II Japanese American Soldier with the 442nd Infantry Regiment for The United States Army Band’s popular military pageant, “Spirit of America.” He never realized it would be one of his two most memorable experiences while serving with “Pershing’s Own.” The other was having the privilege of working at the Pentagon as part of the military’s many volunteer clean-up teams just days after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. His advice to aspiring musicians comes from his own experiences. “I would stress to young musicians to listen to anything and everything, and not necessarily just music for your instrument. I have learned so much from the performances of vocalist, string players, pianists…all instrumentation.”

SSG Janice Jinyoung Kim

SSG Janice Jinyoung Kim, oboe

Staff Sergeant Kim joined The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in 2011 as an oboist with The U.S. Army Concert Band and has been a part of many memorable events including international performances in Norway and China. “Having my high school and college oboe teacher as my Army Band section leader now is pretty neat,” she adds.

SSG Kim’s musical education is unique in that she grew up in Seoul, South Korea, before her family immigrated to the U.S. during her high school years. “When I was in Korea, I attended arts middle and high schools, which are somewhat similar to the Juilliard Pre-College Division, except they were full-time schools. We had music theory class, ear training, and sight singing in addition to the usual math, Korean, and social science classes. Outside of school we were required to have private instruction once a week. I moved to Northern Virginia when I was 17, which has a completely different language and culture. I was afraid to talk to anyone because I was different.” SSG Kim nevertheless found an entertaining and effective way to improve her English. She remembers, “I used to come home and watch The Simpsons and read the captions to learn how to pronounce stuff. Even today, before I have to go talk to someone in English, I still do a little bit of practice in the car by myself.”

SSG Kim continued her musical studies at George Mason University where earned a Bachelor of Music in Oboe Performance with a minor in Arts Management, then moved to New York to earn a Master of Music in Classical Oboe from Manhattan School of Music. SSG Kim draws a contrast between music education in Korea and the United States, noting that “in Korea, I think the music education was more focused on perfecting the piece you were working on by practicing hours and hours rather than learning what the piece was about, phrasing, and other things you can understand about the piece before you work on it.”

SSG Kim’s favorite overall composer is Richard Strauss, but she also listens to a lot of Christian contemporary music and Korean pop songs. Her advice to aspiring musicians: “Learn to be your own teacher. Record yourself and write down things you can improve.”

April, 2014 - Extreme Athletes

SGM David Brundage

SGM David Brundage, bassoon

“One of my earliest musical memories was hearing The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” play on the barge at the Watergate (Washington, DC) when I was three-years-old.” So says Sergeant Major David Brundage, principal bassoonist with The U.S. Army Concert Band. Originally from Woodbridge, Virginia, he spent two years at Boston University before earning a position with The Army Band in 1980 at the age of 19! During his time in the Army Band, he has been given numerous solo opportunities including performing the Ewazen “Concerto for Bassoon” with The U.S. Army Orchestra. Yet, he clearly cites the ceremony at “Ground Zero” following 9/11 2001 as the most memorable performance of his career.

His musical tastes are eclectic and his favorites include everything from Danny Elfman, Beethoven, Barber, Bach, Mozart and Shostakovich, to Green Day, The Beatles, Talking Heads, Queen, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, The Cars, Rush, and…wait for it…The Bubonic Bassoon Quartet.

What does a SGM with 34 years on active-duty plan to do upon retirement? SGM Brundage has always speedily surpassed most Army Band Soldiers on the running track, so he’s already training to compete in an Ironman distance triathlon! To date, he has completed eight triathlons and has run in 24, 26.2-mile marathons in which his fastest time was an impressive three hours flat! Also, he has been a member of four trophy-winning Army Ten-Miler teams for the Military District of Washington. His fastest time on the Army Physical Fitness Training run was 10:21, twice as fast as many people half his age! At a recent highly-competitive audition, a new bassoonist was selected to take his place behind the two remaining bassoonists in the section. We half-jokingly wonder if SGM Brundage will make this newest member to the section race around a track before he ceremoniously hands over his bassoon “torch.”

MSG Christal Rheams

MSG Christal Rheams, vocalist

Master Sergeant Christal Rheams is the lead alto soloist with The U.S. Army Band Downrange. A 20-year career Army Soldier, this vocalist prefers the term “fit” over “athlete.” Over the last 18 months, she has overcome obstacles in many facets of her life, but, most importantly: fitness. Having struggled her whole life with weight gain and weight loss, MSG Rheams has embraced a lifestyle change that gives her pleasure and opens her mind to vast possibilities in her future. As a child growing up in a vibrant musical theatre community in Raleigh, North Carolina, MSG Rheams has participated in arts-related activities since the age of 6. Ballet, tap, and modern dance as well as training in musical theatre and classical voice. “I always steered clear of competitive sports and remained with what I knew, which was theatre.”

MSG Rheams 20-year Army career singing for her country has taken her on many journeys where she’s faced multiple obstacles, but none has been as challenging as her own personal fitness. “Needing a boost in confidence and in my personal health, I finally began to search for options that would benefit me. Fast forward to today, I am a proud Cross Functional Fitness gal, with two “Open” competitions under my belt. While I will not boast about my results, I will take pride in having the courage to persevere even with the odds stacked against me.” At age 44 and a beginner in every sense of the word, her goal is to one day compete in the games in the “Masters” division. While that might seem like a long way off, for now she concentrates on meeting small goals and training. “I can see way past my APFT now, because it’s not the obstacle anymore. It’s a step, a step ahead in the right direction. And each day, I will take another step.”

To date, MSG Rheams is the only female Soldier in The United States Army band to complete both Level I and Level II of the Army Combatives Program. The warrior ethos is strong with MSG Rheams as she shares her positive outlook as a certified Master Resilience Trainer through Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness. Her advice to aspiring musicians, as in her physical training, is to practice, practice, practice.

SFC Scott Weinhold

SFC Scott Weinhold, saxophone

Sergeant First Class Scott Weinhold has been a member of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” since 2001, and is currently a saxophonist with The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band. From Albany, New York, SFC Weinhold’s earliest musical memory is “paying more attention to the music in cartoons than the cartoons when I was 5 or 6.” He harnessed his musical talents in college and earned a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from College of St. Rose in Albany and a Master of Music in Saxophone from University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory, and some doctoral work in Jazz Studies at Indiana University. In addition to saxophone, he also plays flute, clarinet, and piano, and is currently learning bass and guitar.

Although he counts Igor Stravinsky as his favorite composer, his music playlist includes “a mix of just about any style music you can name; the majority of it is jazz.” SFC Weinhold is known at Pershing’s Own for being an accomplished athlete, as well. He has competed in several triathlons per year for the past decade, including three Ironman Triathlons, has run the Boston Marathon twice, and has placed in the top three for his age group in several competitions. When asked about his first triathlon, he says, “I didn’t know how to swim, but that didn’t stop me from signing up for one.” SFC Weinhold says he believes “in variety and change. The body is amazing at adapting, and forcing it to adapt to new stresses is the key to improvement.”

These days he is expanding his list of athletic endeavors, and says “I have started competing in cycling-specific races, and I’m excited to see where that takes me.” SFC Weinhold’s advice to aspiring musicians is to “Make sure you love what you do!”

March, 2014 - Women’s History Month

MSG Maria Luisa de la Cerda Rohde

MSG Maria Luisa de la Cerda Rohde,

Master Sergeant Maria Luisa de la Cerda Rohde, piccolo section leader and flutist with The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band, is from New Braunfels, Texas. She received her BM from The University of Texas at Austin, where she studied flute, as well as piano and pedagogy. However, “Before I was school age, I would pick out tunes on the piano from the music of the Spanish language radio station my Grandmother listened to”…a true musician in the making. When asked about challenging pieces written for her instrument, MSG Rohde answers, “Any piece of music can be challenging if you desire to perform it well for yourself and your listeners.” The first woman in “Pershing’s Own” history to retire from the Ceremonial Band (her last date of service is in May 2014) and the first Latina to have served in the unit, MSG Rohde’s most memorable performance was “The State Funeral of President Ronald Reagan.” She says the military’s biggest impact on her as a person has been, “To uphold what I promised to do when I raised my right hand. It didn’t matter if the job I performed for the military had anything to do with what I learned in Basic Combat Training. I had affirmed a promise to obey.” With eclectic musical tastes, her favorite overall composer is “JS Bach,” and her iPod contains “Broadway shows, Mariachi music, Bjork, Maria Callas, The Beatles, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Yann Tiersen, Jazz, Classical, movie soundtracks, anything by Eric Whitacre and LOTS of flute music.” As she works towards her retirement, her advice to aspiring musicians is: “Connect deeply with whatever music you play. If you do that, you will connect deeply with your audience. Serve the music well and it will serve you well.” Buena suerte, Maria! Vivir bien!

SFC Kirsten Lies-Warfield

SFC Kirsten Lies-Warfield,

As a musician, “The military is a totally foreign culture, one in which I have learned to live and appreciate.” So says Sergeant First Class Kirsten Lies-Warfield about the impact being in the military has had on her. She hails from Fargo, North Dakota, where she says, “I remember hearing Nat King Cole in the womb. Seriously, I don’t remember ever NOT hearing music.” Having received “a high-quality arts education from grade school teachers who still influence [my] thinking today,” she plays tenor trombone and tenor Herald Trumpet with The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band. After attending Lawrence University (BM degree) and Indiana University (MM degree), she joined The United States Army Band in 1999, becoming the first woman trombonist ever hired by “Pershing’s Own.” With the band, SFC Lies-Warfield says her most memorable performance was “playing with the Army Blues at the International Women’s Brass Conference,” a great response for this, Women’s History Month! Her “favorites” include composer “Igor Stravinsky” and several favorite recordings: “Taketron by Slavic Soul Party, Sugar Buzz by K.D. Lang, Goldberg Variations by Bach played by Glenn Gould.” On her iPod one will find “Ives songs, Bernstein’s Mass, Boban Markovich, The Bombay Royale, Slavic Soul Party, Polkaholix, Smithsonian Folkways, Willie Colon, Bonerama,” and her advice to aspiring musicians is: “If you have an artistic vision, don’t wait for it to be perfect to put it out there. The process of being out in the world is invaluable in your development of ideas.”

SSG Michelle Renee Acton

SSG Michelle Renee Acton,

Able to play piano, flute, and a little clarinet, Army Band saxophonist, Staff Sergeant Michelle Acton, says that she began her musical training in her home town of Plano, Texas, when she was 5. Asked about her earliest musical memories, she answered, “Playing around on my mom’s organ at home when I was in pre-school.” With a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University and a master’s degree from the University of North Texas, she joined “Pershing’s Own” as its first female saxophonist in 2004 and was assigned to the Ceremonial Band. As a part of that element, her most memorable performance to date has been the parade at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. “There was a real feeling of joy and hope among the great crowds of people,” which goes along with what she feels being a military musician has meant to her. “The sacrifices of so many service members for their fellow citizens [has had a big impact]. Before joining, I didn’t have much exposure to the military, so I had little insight into the deployments and the families left behind.” Although there are many challenging pieces for the saxophone, SSG Acton says, “I couldn’t begin to name one most challenging piece. They will just continue to get more difficult so any one I pick will not be ‘most difficult’ for long. With all the extended techniques in use today, it also depends on what each performer is good at.” She also defers that “I don’t have a favorite [composer]. I love Strauss, I love Ellington, I love Reich and Adams, and Dubois and Yorke.” Her advice to aspiring musicians: “Play and perform with friends and other musicians [network], listen to music all the time, and if this is something you really want to do for a living, practice more than anyone you know.”