For as long as the U.S. Army has been stationed in West Point, N.Y., it has been accompanied by a group of musicians — first a handful of fifers and drummers at a post established by George Washington in 1778, then eventually a full-blown band.
Today, that band, formally organized by an Act of Congress in 1817, is the oldest unit at West Point, home of the United States Military Academy. The group celebrated its 200th birthday earlier this year and remains as popular as ever, fulfilling more than 1,600 official missions every year. On Saturday, it will play before this year’s Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, then accompany the Navy band for a joint performance at halftime.
“We’re a joint (military) force in today’s world,” Lt. Col. Tod Addison, the band’s commander and conductor, told USA TODAY Sports. “Even though we’re trying to push the ball down the field a certain direction, in actual day-to-day function, the different services work together to get the mission done.”
Earlier this fall, USA TODAY spent two days on the West Point campus, filming the West Point Band as it practiced and performed at halftime of Army’s season-opening win over Fordham. The result is a virtual reality video that takes the viewer inside the ranks of the marching band, a group of more than 40 professional musicians with backgrounds at some of the most prestigious music institutions in the country.
“One of the biggest misconceptions I think of the organization as a whole is that we’re cadets,” Addison said. “We’re not cadets. We never were cadets. The band here itself is professional musicians enlisted into the Army.”
Though the Army and Navy bands will share the spotlight at halftime Saturday, their respective football teams will continue a fierce rivalry on the field that dates to 1890 — and this year, the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy will be on the line. The Black Knights haven’t won the trophy, given to the winner of an annual three-game series among Air Force, Army and Navy, since 1996.
Addison, who considers himself an Army football fan, said he likes the team’s chances.
“It’ll be good to bring back the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy,” he said. “Can’t wait for that to happen.”
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
Source: USA Today Fan Sports Poll