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Marine Corps' bagpipes boycott drives new legislation

Jun. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Having military bands perform at community events would become easier under an amendment passed Friday by the House of Representatives. Above, musicians with the Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band, march and perform May 22 in the Military Appreciation Day Parade in Waikiki, Hawaii.
Having military bands perform at community events would become easier under an amendment passed Friday by the House of Representatives. Above, musicians with the Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band, march and perform May 22 in the Military Appreciation Day Parade in Waikiki, Hawaii. (Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso / Marine Corps)
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Having military bands perform at community events would become easier under an amendment passed Friday by the House of Representatives.

The legislation is a direct result of the Marine Corps declining an invitation to perform during this summer’s 148th Scottish Gathering and Games at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, Calif. New military rules, put in place earlier this year because of budget cuts activated by sequestration, restrict bands from traveling very far for performances.

The annual event, sponsored by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco, draws more than 20 bagpipe bands from the U.S. and Canada, and is one of the few places to watch a U.S. military band and a top-tier bagpipe band perform and march together.

Passed by voice vote as an attachment to the 2014 defense authorization bill, the legislation likely isn’t enough to rescue the Marine Corps Band’s 2013 appearance. This year’s event will be held Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Annual defense policy bill rarely becomes law before Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, and often takes months longer.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who sponsored the amendment, said he’s trying to find a way around the Defense Department’s travel ban for bands. Even when sponsoring community organizations agree to pay expenses, the Defense Department is not letting bands travel “saying that the reimbursement is never credited to the proper account,” Swalwell said.

“This is hard to believe,” he said, noting that organizations previously paid expenses and “there have not been any problems that we have been aware of. But, since sequestration, they are now saying it cannot be done.”

Swalwell’s amendment would provide military musical units, to include bands and choirs, would-be credits directly to the account for that unit, not to a general fund.

Swalwell said his interest comes from a Marine Corps veteran who notified him the Marine Corps band wasn’t coming to the Scottish games this year “even though his organization would fully fund the band’s expenditure, just as they have always done.”

The games are a large annual event, featuring pipe band and Highland dancing competitions, sheep dog trials, historical re-enactments and whiskey tasting.

“Public performances by military bands like the Marine Corps band bring a sense of patriotism and community to our cities and towns,” Swalwell said as the House considered his amendment on Friday. It passed as part of a package of noncontroversial amendments.

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