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New year brings new commander

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ani Berberian
  • The United States Air Force Band

The U.S. Air Force Band began the new year celebrating and saying thank you to a leader who had an illustrious 27-year career in the Air Force Band career field, and welcoming a new leader who is known for accomplishing many “firsts” with enthusiasm, energy and creativeness.

The Band's change of command ceremony took place on Jan. 15 at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Club in Washington, D.C. Col. Kathryn Brown, 11th Operations Group Commander, presided over the ceremony during which she thanked Col. Larry H. Lang and his family for their dedicated service while extending a warm welcome to the Band's 16th commander, Col. Don Schofield, and his extended family.

Each squadron of the 11th Operations Group lent honor and decorum to the occasion with the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard presenting the colors, Chaplain Lt. Col. David Mansberger delivering the invocation, and the Band showcasing three of its ensembles:  the Ceremonial Brass offered pre-ceremony music and the arrival fanfare, the Singing Sergeants performed unique and harmonious renditions of the national anthem and “America the Beautiful,” and the Concert Band Brass Quartet accompanied the audience in the singing of “The U.S. Air Force Song.”

Brown first remarked on the incredible history of Band, as “an organization older than the Air Force itself,” originating in 1941 as part of the Army Air Corps. She added that the Band “engages in strategic communication and public outreach, building confidence and trust in our military abroad and here at home, breaking barriers and forging relationships through music.”

She also pointed out that this is not a typical squadron command assignment, in that “most units are not led by full colonels, and that they normally do not serve more than two years at a particular unit."

In Col. Lang’s seven-year tenure with the Band, he led the Band to great success and outreach in supporting more than 10,000 missions, including more than 5,000 funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, 1,600 ceremonies, two presidential inaugurations, countless diplomatic engagements, and over 2,200 community relations missions to a live audience of over 24 million and a media audience of just over one billion worldwide.

In addition to these impressive statistics, Lang forged a closer relationship between the Air Force and the general public through the creation of initiatives such as the Advancing Innovation through Music (AIM) program. As part of the AIM program, the Band presented clinics and masterclasses in schools and universities throughout the nation. This resulted in a deeper connection between the Air Force and the community through the arts, instilling a greater understanding of our military in younger audiences and inspiring them to serve as well.

In addition to the AIM initiative, Lang established the "Heritage to Horizons" concert series which celebrated the Air Force’s 70 years of breaking barriers. He also created five holiday video productions which included flash mobs at notable Washington, D.C., sites. These videos reached millions of viewers worldwide on several social media platforms, and one was even featured on a cable TV show about viral videos.

Before the change of command ceremony, Brown asked the outgoing Band commander what he was most proud of during his tenure. Lang answered that it was “the Air Force Band’s ability to utilize music in a powerful way to bring people together, while tearing down walls and building bridges.”

This desire for unity is apparent through Lang's creation of partnerships with the Smithsonian Institution and the Dallas-Fort Worth Honor Flight, and through the production of the “One Voice” video in 2018.

In addition to these new initiatives, Lang also reignited former ones such as the Guest Artist Series, in which the world’s most renowned performers are invited to perform with the Concert Band. This series helps further strengthen bonds between the Air Force Band and the music industry.

During the ceremony, Brown remarked that Lang left the organization better than when he arrived, taking command during a “tumultuous and difficult time.” She further remarked that “he is the kind of person that is not only highly respected throughout the Air Force and Air Force Band career fields, but also throughout the music industry and academia.”

Born in El Paso, Texas, Col. Lang began his musical career as a trombonist. He attended New Mexico State University, earning a Bachelor of Music Education and Performance in 1980. He then earned a Master of Music degree from the University of New Hampshire. Subsequently, he served on the faculty at UNH and McNeese State University before being commissioned into the United States Air Force in 1990. His previous commands include the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific in Alaska, the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band in Virginia, the U.S. Air Force Band of Liberty in Massachusetts, and the U.S. Air Force Academy Band in Colorado Springs. He assumed command of The U.S. Air Force Band in 2012.

When asked what his top three highlights were with the Band, Lang noted performing for the state funeral for George H.W. Bush, the NBC broadcast of Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular, and collaborating with Washington Performing Arts in producing concerts celebrating the music of John Luther Adams, David Robertson and Leonard Bernstein.

Lang emphasized that the success of the organization lies in “trusting in the talented people within your organization, and working relentlessly to find ways to let their talent and ideas flourish.” This was the key piece of advice he could offer to future Air Force Band commanders.

When asked how this particular assignment changed him professionally and personally as a commander, Lang stated that working with the incredibly talented musicians of the Air Force Band helped him to grow as a musician and conductor. “Working with strong leaders in the band, the 11th Wing and the Air Force District of Washington helped him to grow personally as a leader,” and that “his creativity grew in dealing with resources, talent within the band, and the ability to produce dozens of successful videos and recordings.”

Col. Don Schofield comes to The U.S. Force Band with 21 years of strategic and global experience. He assumes command of the 184-member premier unit, and will be responsible for equipping, training, and deploying Airmen musicians to perform nearly 1500 missions per year.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, he received his Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Georgia in 1989. He then went on to receive a Master of Music degree from Louisiana State University, and a Doctor of Music Arts degree from Boston University. He was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force in 1997, and serving as commander of the U.S. Air Force Band in Europe, the U.S. Air Force Academy Band in Colorado, the U.S. Air Force Reserve Band at Warner-Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. During a previous appointment with The U.S. Air Force Band, he also served as the Deputy Commander of the 11th Operations Group at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.

During the ceremony, Brown described his leadership style as “energetic, enthusiastic, intuitive and well-versed in global experience.” Evidence of this leadership style could be seen while serving as the Band Commander of the U.S. Air Force Band in Europe, where he helped strengthen relationships and initiatives with 104 nations of the European and Africa Command Area of Responsibility. As a result, these relationships dispelled inaccurate perceptions and information of the U.S. military, especially in the countries of Ukraine and Russia. His use of music as “soft power” unified global vision and resulted in the unit’s win of the 2017 Brigadier General Dalton Award for being the top public affairs unit in the Air Force, the first band to win at the Air Force-wide level.

Schofield reminisced about his time as commander in Germany by sharing what he learned during his time there. Most importantly, he learned how the Air Force Bands represent not only as Airmen musicians, but they represent Americans to overseas cultures.

“The many times we performed in Eastern Europe, some people had never met an American before, and probably would not have met an American in their lives," shared Schofield. "So to them, coming to a U.S. Air Force Band concert was much more than hearing American music, but also the opportunity to meet an American. We took that very seriously and understood that we were making critical opinions for people. We wanted to make sure we presented the best that America has to offer.”

About his upcoming tenure with the U.S. Air Force Band, Schofield is equally enthusiastic. As a four-time squadron commander, and now serving in his third assignment at The U.S. Air Force Band, he knows this organization and its members well.

“The U.S Air Force Band is a national treasure," said Schofield. "We have heritage that goes back to Glenn Miller, and that identity is tied to American freedom. This American popularity goes home and overseas.

"I think we bring people together through the universal language of music," he continued. "When we go out and travel and play for audiences all over the United States, we are able to bring a bit of American culture directly to them, and also, as we live here in Washington D.C., a bit of that history and perspective as well.“

Along with his experiences as Band Commander, Schofield feels that his educational experiences helped him prepare for this command. Each degree he pursued afforded him with the development of a specific leadership skill. His time at the University of Georgia gave him his first taste of what it meant to be a leader.

“As an undergraduate at the University of Georgia, the experiences and the mentorship that I had there prepared me for this job completely," Schofield said. "It was through the mentorship and the leadership of the faculty there that provided me with leadership experiences early on, to lead people, to make decisions and to create a vision. The University of Georgia provided a safe environment for me to do that…to be able to practice being a leader, as I was a developing teacher.”

His time at Louisiana State University (LSU) also provided him with the opportunity to develop his skills as strategic thinker for the first time. He explains this concept as “the thinking of the long-term effects of what we were doing now and the implications they would have, weeks, months, potentially years down the road.”

While serving as a graduate assistant with the LSU band, Schofield felt his two mentors, Frank Wickes and Linda Moorhouse, challenged him to think like a band director which he translates today into "strategic thinking of how to lead people.”

During the pursuit of his doctoral degree at Boston University, Schofield felt he developed critical thinking skills, and was able to read and look at problems, ideas and concepts from many different perspectives through his studies and mentors there. He states, “I am a better commander now because of that.”

As Schofield assumes command, he says his favorite aspect of serving as a Commander is working with his troops.

"What we do as musicians is really based on trust, " he shares. "At my first concert, I felt the ensemble was there to help me and to support me, and I had a tremendous amount of trust in them. I think for me the best aspect of being a commander is working with people that are creative, dedicated and truly talented, and to be able to represent what we represent globally, both for the U.S. and the U.S. Air Force.”

The U.S Air Force Band would like to say thank you and farewell to Col. Lang for his 27 years of service and commitment to excellence, and looks forward to the direction that Col. Schofield will lead the band during his tenure.