Army Materiel Command supplies soldiers with nearly everything - including music

By Kenneth Kesner
The Huntsville Times

News story photo
Photo credit: Robin Conn, The Huntsville Times
Army Materiel Command Band commander CW4 Peter Gillies, who plays tuba, said his musicians are proud to play in the community as well as to support AMC and military events around the world.
The Army Materiel Command supplies soldiers with guns and butter, gloves and night-vision goggles, helicopters, missiles and music.

Yes, music. The command's more than 69,000-member workforce around the world includes about 40 soldier-musicians who make up the AMC Band.

It's just one of the more than 30 active duty Army bands, and is considered one of the smaller ones, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Peter Gillies, the AMC Band commander.

But its size belies its history and impact. The AMC Band's beginnings go much farther back than AMC itself. The unit was formed in 1944 as the 389th Army Band, and famously helped raise more than $1 million in war bonds.

Fifty years later, the 389th was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, earning awards for service in the Global War on Terrorism- "Bands are right along with the troops in Afghanistan," Gillies said, "bringing a little slice of home" - when the group was officially designated the Army Materiel Command Band.

After the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decision relocated AMC from Virginia into a new headquarters on Redstone Arsenal, the AMC Band moved, too, into its own, more than 16,000-foot custom-built building, complete with rehearsal rooms and recording facilities.

Previously, the band had been housed in small, converted mess halls, an old barracks or other abandoned space, Gillies said. Now there is room for the AMC Band's half-dozen breakout groups - such as the jazz-focused "Raw Materiel," or the popular "Tennessee River Ramblers" six-piece Dixieland ensemble - to practice and store gear.

Having those smaller groups allows the musicians to appear at events and venues too small for the whole band, and lets them play a less-expensive performance in more than one place at a time, he said.

"We do over 400 performances a year. We couldn't do that it if it was just the band," Gillies said.

Today, the AMC Band supports the AMC headquarters, more than a dozen AMC subordinate commands and organizations and AMC installations worldwide, as well as the Redstone Arsenal garrison and its many tenant organizations. On Tuesday, the band will play a key, ceremonial role during the AMC change of command ceremony, as Gen. Ann Dunwoody passes the leadership to Lt. Gen. (promotable) Dennis Via.

But the band doesn't just play for Army events. They regularly play at the Concert in the Parks series, in schools and at other area gatherings.

A couple of the AMC Band's trumpet players will work Huntsville High School's band camp this month; other members perform in various groups around town and some are also music students at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and at Alabama A&M University. A project is under way that would pair the band and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra on New Year's Eve.

"We try to be part of, integrated into, the community," Gillies said. "We are the face of AMC to the public. ... We take that mission very seriously."

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