USAREUR Soldier Earns Army’s Band NCO of Year

By Sgt. Manuel Torres-Cortes
USAREUR Public Affairs

News story photo
Sgt. 1st Class Phil Nicholson is the second consecutive USAREUR Band Soldier to be selected as the Army Bands Noncommissioned Officer of the Year
HEIDELBERG, Germany – The room was filled with about 20 Soldiers. While each was focused on the same goal, they took their own route to accomplish their mission of warming up and being prepared for rehearsal.

For many Soldiers the journey to becoming the best begins at various points. These rehearsals may be the first steps the Soldiers take to start the process.

For one USAREUR Soldier, the journey began when he was nine years old.

It was in fourth grade, when he was taught and inspired by a music teacher and a World War II veteran, whom he would never forget … his father.

“He would have been really proud of me,” said Sgt. 1st Class Phil Nicholson, a native of Silverdale, Wash. “He supported me throughout every achievement big or small, and he was definitely an inspiration.”

In addition to being inspired by his father, Nicholson also gives credit to his wife and two daughters for his success. “They are all responsible for the best of me,” he said.

Nicholson, a trombone player for the United States Army Europe Band, was recently named the Army Bands’ Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. This competition, in its fourth year, identifies and recognizes Army band noncommissioned officers who best demonstrate traits, characteristics, and values most desired in an Army musician.

“I am surprised and proud that I was chosen for this,” Nicholson said. “I know the three previous winners and it’s a great honor to be associated with them.”

Although his primary job is that of a trombonist, he is more than just a musician. Nicholson claims himself a “Jack of all trades and a master of none.” Some of his duties include in-processing new Soldiers into the unit, maintaining accountability of each Soldier for force protection, and producing force protection rosters for the band at Tompkins Barracks.

“Sgt. 1st Class Nicholson is a fantastic NCO and musician,” said Sgt. David Burke, trombone player for the USAREUR band. “There hasn’t been a single person who has said that he is unfair.”

He is an indirect mentor and leader, said Burke. “You can’t help it when you sit next to him during rehearsals and have some of his success as an NCO and bandsman rub off on you. You want to be better because he is the best.”

To be branded the best, he had to undergo some scrutiny by the U.S. Army Band evaluation board, according to Lt. Col. Thomas H. Palmatier, commander, USAREUR Band and Chorus. “The board looks at various categories which include personal honors, overall effectiveness, job accomplishment, leadership organizational and planning skills, judgment and decisions, and artistic integrity.”

Nicholson’s leadership, organizational and planning skills allowed him to organize and train an effective team that is best verified by the most recent command inspection results. All of his inspected areas were rated green and no single area received less than a 98 percent rating.

Throughout force protection condition Charlie, the band and chorus kept performing, even when other military bands cancelled all off-post performances, said Palmatier. Nicholson’s expert coordination of host nation police, intelligence support, and creative use of unit force protection assets minimized risk and maximized his unit effectiveness.

As the Senior Drum Major, Nicholson led the band in numerous parades, ceremonies, and international marching shows without injuries or incidents.

While maintaining his Soldiers’ proficiency, he continues to personally excel. He earned Master Parachutist and Air Assault badges and was selected over other senior sergeants’ first class to fill a master sergeant’s position as Chief - Safety, Security, and Intelligence Division of the USAREUR Band and Chorus.

His musical accomplishments mirror that of his military achievements as Nicholson’s artistic integrity has scored 3.18 on his most recent U.S. Army Element School of Music audition; most master instructors of music schools receive a score of 3.2, well within the range of elite players in the Army. He has also performed throughout the year as lead and solo trombone with USAREUR band and chorus’ big band, the ‘Soldiers of Swing’.

“Nicholson, in word and deed, demonstrates all that it means to be a Soldier-musician,”

Palmatier wrote to the evaluation board. “When a Master Parachutist in superb physical condition and with unquestioned tactical knowledge, can excel as a musician at the highest level, it demonstrates what an Army Band Soldier can be.”

“He is a top Soldier, he expects the best and excellence is his watchword,” said Sgt. Maj. Joel Joyner, USAREUR band and chorus sergeant major. “His talent in the trombone brings out the heart and soul of his music.”

The USAREUR band has produced two of the last four winners in this competition. The band plays internationally and locally. Kosovo, Normandy, France, Kuwait, Iraq and all throughout Europe are some of the places they’ve played. Nicholson and the band continue to provide USAREUR with top of the line music entertainment.

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