Today is the first day of your United States Navy Concert Band’s 2012 national concert tour! There is always a great deal of excitement as we depart on tour. For several of us this is a new experience, while others cannot remember a March that wasn’t full of travel plans. As I am frightfully old and this is my last national tour, my excitement is tinged with bittersweet memories, and I find myself in a mood to reminisce.
I first understood the challenges of military deployment as a fresh-faced eighteen-year old on a pier in Charleston, S.C. I had just arrived at my first duty station, and at that time Charleston Naval Base was the headquarters of the Sixth Naval District. It was a far larger Navy back then, with more bases and hundreds more ships than today, and many of those ships were home ported in Charleston. One of that band’s regular jobs was performing for the almost daily arrival and departure of various naval vessels.
I wasn’t prepared for the great emotional differences between the two events: although I felt great seeing all the families so excited to greet returning loved ones, I was also aware of the pain experienced by families being forced to part.
Today our shipmates in the fleet are departing for extended tours of duty away from their loved ones, often directly in harm’s way. I cannot imagine the difficulty our Navy families have saying goodbye, or the anguish when a spouse, parent, child, or friend fails to return. Of course, the Navy Band will only be on this tour for 26 days, and we will all return home safe and sound. But as we waited for our busses to arrive, I saw similar feelings reflected in the faces of our families and ourselves. And shortly after we pulled away, I saw the loss manifested in my shipmates. In the old days, folks would cover the windows and seat backs of the bus with pictures and handwritten misspelled notes, expressions of love and support that we treasured. Today, many of us broke out digital devices, and the first thing pulled up (and sometimes shared) were photos and movies of those we’d just left behind. As proud as we are to represent the Navy, we still miss our families when apart, we can’t wait to get back home, and our families must find ways to cope in our absence. Some things never change.
I’m very happy and excited to be on this final tour, and I look forward to performing some wonderful music for our fans outside of Washington, D.C. But right now I’m remembering one of the few tours in the past 20 I didn’t go on: the one 15 years ago when my first child, Tyler, was born.
Happy Birthday Big Guy! I love you, and I’ll be home soon…
Senior Chief Musician Karl Hovey is the principal tubist in the Concert Band.