Supporters of military bands are pushing back against legislative attacks on the musicians' work, arguing the benefits the groups provide outweigh the costs cited by critics.

Earlier this month, House lawmakers approved new restrictions on military ensemble performances at social functions outside official duties. The move would not directly cut any performance funds, but would stop service musicians' appearances at military social events, if approved by the Senate later this year.

The House chamber has already included a full review of band costs and manning in its draft of the annual defense authorization bill, arguing that "the services may be able to conserve end strength by reducing the number of military bands."

According to Defense Department estimates, military bands spend about $437 million on instruments, uniforms and travel expenses each year. Lawmakers argue that money could be better spent elsewhere, given the strict spending caps placed on defense spending.

But supporters of the bands call the moves short-sighted and ignorant of the scope of the performers' work.

"These servicemen and women set one of the highest examples of musical achievement, pride in nation, and further the aspirations of all citizens, including young American music students across the nation," Mike Blakelee, executive director of the National Association for Music Education said in a statement.

"They provide music throughout the entire spectrum of operations, to instill in our forces the will, to fight and win, foster the support of our citizens, and promote America's interests at home and abroad."

Just days after the latest House vote, supporters set up a petition on the White House website urging the president to support continued funding for the bands, arguing "if these events were contracted to civilian musicians, the cost would be significantly higher."

About 23,000 individuals have signed on to the effort, although 100,000 are needed before the White House is required to issue a response.

Lt. Col. Domingos Robinson, commander and conductor of the Eighth Army Band, took to his personal blog last week to blast the thinking behind the new pressure on the military performers.

"The people who think that limiting military bands to ceremonies and funerals is a good idea have no idea what we do," he wrote. "We make Americans feel good about their military and their country; we create connections between cultures; we set the stage for strategic talks; we bridge the gap; we provide context; we help people celebrate and we help people mourn."

So far, senators haven't weighed in on the music fight. They'll need to approve the House proposals before they can become law, a process that won't happen until this fall at the earliest.

In the meantime, most military bands are preparing for performances around the July 4 holiday, shows that they say could get shut down next year if the House plans stay in the legislation.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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