AL HILLA, Iraq -- As the trumpets blared and the drums bellowed, the First Marine Division Band played a patriotic concert for First Battalion, Fourth Marines in the city of Al Hilla. In the backdrop, sporadic gunfire rang outside the compound. A crowd of high-spirited Marines cheered on
The music continued until dusk. Observing Marines felt the band's gratitude for their accomplishments in their fight against Iraq.
"It's awesome to see these Marines out here on the outskirts of the Division's area. The Marines really appreciate what they did here," Capt. Reggie Gibbs said, Assistant Operations Officer for Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 4rth Mar.
But the band also offers a lot more than just a fine musical performance to sprinkled units around Iraq. They provide first-rate security and protection for the Division's Main camp.
Throughout the year, the band prepares for deployment with multitudes of combat training. Every Marine is given classes on land navigation, urban tactics, MOUT training, security, patrolling, range cards and other combat oriented tactics. Band Marines also attend the Machine Gunners Course, where they learn the MK-19, .50 cal and SAW inside and out.
Staff Sergeant Kenneth Douglas, an instrumentalist for the band, first enlisted in the Marine Corps to leave the comforts of home and fight for America's freedoms. He joined on an open contract and wanted to make his country proud. Months later, Douglas' recruiter noticed that he also happened to be a very good trombone player.
"I joined for this stuff," Douglas said, sheer motivation glowing from his smile. "This combat experience has been the pinnacle of my career."
Cpl. Michael Riendeau plays the saxophone for the band. He also mans the .240 Gulf while protecting the Division's Main camp. Riendeau shares a fighting hole with three other Marines while manning the perimeter, where he also eats, sleeps and spends all his time. All four Marines never leave the position. And their spirits have never been higher.
"I never thought I would have the responsibility of something like this," Riendeau said, referring to his duty while in combat. "It's very motivating."
The band has excelled so much in their knowledge of weapons and security operations that they train other Headquarters Battalion units on employing weapons and other security facets.
"We are the unit of choice," Douglas said proudly.
If the band has their skeptics, they do not have many of them.
"They knew a lot more about their weapons and their training than I thought," Sgt. Adam Villegas said, G-1 Admin Chief for 1st MarDiv and one of the many fellow Marines the band protects. "I have full faith in the security that they provide. I couldn't tell them apart from an infantry platoon. They are that good."