Archive for Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Air Force cutbacks extend to bands

August 29, 2006

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— The Air Force won't be eliminating the Heartland of America Band at Offutt Air Force Base, but it will be cutting back on the volume.

The Air Force had been considering liquidating three of its 12 active-duty bands as part of a personnel cutback.

But according to U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson's office, the Pentagon instead will cut the personnel strength of all its active-duty bands by 25 percent. For the Offutt group, that will take its strength from 61 to 46 musicians, according to Lt. Col. A. Phillip Waite, the band's director.

"It's great news we're not losing the whole operation," Waite said.

Still, he said, the band will lose significant capabilities with the reduction. Woodwind players are likely to be cut, because brass instruments are necessary for the band's ceremonial duties. But the loss of clarinets, oboes and the like would limit what arrangements the band could play.

"The concert band capability will go away as we know it," Waite said.

He said Oct. 1, 2007, has been given as the date by which cuts will be made.

In July, the senator, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had asked the Air Force about plans to cut back on the bands. He called them "a necessary component of the armed services."

Nebraska's other U.S. senator, Chuck Hagel, also sent a letter supporting the band to the secretary of the Air Force.

The Air Force had said personnel reductions were necessary as the service tries to modernize.

Eliminating the band would have freed its annual budget of $732,000.

Offutt's band includes a main concert orchestra and side groups, such as wind ensembles. Its members performed nearly 600 shows in the last year across eight states: Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.

Its country-rock group also performed for troops in Iraq and the Middle East on a monthlong tour earlier this year.

In Omaha, the group has played an annual free Christmas concert for 20 years.

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