To Battle We Go: Soldiers first, musicians second

Nov 30, 2020 | by Brad Rowland

To Battle We Go: Soldiers first, musicians second

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

My first assignment as a newly minted U.S. Army bandsman back in 1980 was with the 24th Infantry Division, stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, just outside of Savannah. The 24th had a long pedigree as a combat division going back to World War II, and was the "heavy" division (meaning it had tanks and heavy artillery) in the Rapid Deployment Force, a group of combat units that would be the first to fight in any potential conflict. The division was kept in a constant state of readiness.  Alerts, drills, and dry runs were monthly occurrences, and my shots, will and power of attorney for my wife, Janine, had to be updated every three months in case I was suddenly deployed.

As a combat division bandsman, I was expected to not only fill my role as a musician but also be able to function as an infantryman. To that end, I was assigned all the gear an infantryman would have (three duffle bags full!), including an M-16 rifle, a gas mask and a nuclear-biological-chemical suit that made me look like a giant roll of tin foil.

The band also trained like an infantry unit, often going to the firing range to shoot and to the gas chamber to test our gas masks, among many other training exercises.

All bandsmen in the U.S. Army then had a secondary job of providing headquarters security, but as infantry division bandsmen, we actually occupied infantry slots. At the stroke of a pen, our division commander could make us all infantrymen, and our bandmaster often reminded us that we were "soldier-musicians," in that order.

Music has played an outsized role in the history of The Salvation Army, going all the way back to William Booth, who recognized what a powerful tool it could be in accomplishing the mission of the Army. The Army has developed some of the finest and most distinctive worship music (and musicians) in the worldwide church, of which we can be justifiably proud. And the gospel arts continue to be a powerful tool in the ministry of the Army, among the healthiest and most vibrant ministries in our corps today.

But our music-making must always be in the service of spreading the gospel. Psalm 40:30 lays it out nicely: He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him. See the connection?  We play and sing to God, and in so doing, those who hear our singing and playing will, we hope, be moved to put their trust in him.

General Booth also knew that a force as powerful as music could easily become its own end if not put completely in the service of the Army's mission, so he insisted that  Salvationist musicians be not only soldiers in good standing but also local officers, adding an extra level of commitment. But even committed Salvationist musicians (and other worship leaders) cannot be holed up high in an artist's loft, apart from the other ministries in the corps. They must be soldiers first and musicians second, dedicated to God and the mission of the Army above all else, and ready to fill any role in the corps when called upon to do so by their leaders. They are to be true soldier-musicians.

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