WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of 45 Marines will receive the nation’s top military award for their outstanding performance in an extremely hard-fought battle of the bands.
According to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the Marines of the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band, the only expeditionary force band in the Marine Corps, will be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by President Obama next week in a ceremony at the White House for their role in besting a rival South Korean Army band during a drum line competition.
The battle took place sometime between late September and early October at a military cultural festival in South Korea and immediately captured the hearts and imaginations of the American public, at least for a few moments in-between ISIS beheading videos, protests in Ferguson, and the U.S. outbreak of the Ebola virus.
"Years from now, when people look back on 2014, we don't want them to remember any of the bad things that happened," Secretary Mabus said as he made the announcement. "We want them to remember that for one shining moment, Marines were popping sticks and... and America was somehow great again!" He then grew misty-eyed and choked out an, "Oo-rah Marine band! Semper Fi!"
This will be the first time a Marine Corps field band has been awarded a unit citation for valor since World War II, when they operated as stretcher-bearers on the front lines during the many island landings in that conflict. It is also the first battle won by any unit of the III Marine Expeditionary Force that didn't involve a fight with the Japanese police.
Chief Warrant Officer-2 Samuel Dyer, director of the III MEF Band, said the lack of awards over the past few decades doesn't mean they've just been drumming on their laurels.
Dyer pointed out that the First Marine Division's band was unsuccessfully nominated for a Navy Unit Commendation, "for their stirring renditions of John Philips Sousa on the march up MSR Tampa," during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
He added that several other Marine bands had deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan to fill the vital "music gap" in those conflicts. Stationed at major forward operating bases, they assisted with such important tasks as disposing human waste and providing the appearance of a personal security detail for several sergeants major.
Dyer said they also conducted the valuable but often-overlooked conversion of oxygen into carbon dioxide, normally carried out by intelligence battalions and higher headquarters.
However, the use of bands on the front lines was quickly eliminated following an incident in 2010 where The Commandant's Own was pressed into conducting route clearance in support of Operation Moshtarak. After the First Tuba accidentally triggered a pressure-plate IED, the operation had to be temporarily halted while Marines fished the pieces of several flutists out of a nearby canal.
The award is open to all current members. Eligible Marines should contact their local Administration section for details. In a separate but related announcement, Marine officials announced that the II Marine Expeditionary Force would be receiving their long-awaited Meritorious Unit Commendation for their "above-average" pacification of western Iraq in 2005.