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WEST JORDAN — Since the Iraq War started over 10 years ago, one unit of the Utah National Guard has been steadily busy.
However, the unit is not an engineering squad or a combat unit. The 23rd Army Band is assigned a completely different mission, one that requires a conductor and a few musical instruments.
"Our job is to go out and provide musical support for the military, as well as the community," said Band Commander Denny Saunders. "We go into communities and we play concerts to promote patriotism."
The band has performed across the country and world. Saunders said they do between 60 and 65 performances every year, mostly within the state. Some seasons are busier than others.
"Summer is definitely our busy time," said Sgt. 1st Class Lisa Blodgett. "In June and July, we're doing a lot of stuff and a handful (of events) in September, also."
Because there are many types of shows the band will perform, there are half a dozen subgroups. There's the concert band, the jazz combo, the rock band and a brass quintet, among other groups. For instance, the buglers are sent to military funerals and Boy Scout troop visits. But if they need to play at a military ball, they'll break out the concert band.
"Every week, we have requests coming in for the band and I go through those requests and decide which group is going to be the one that is going to be able to cover that," Blodgett said. "We've got some troop departures coming up. We'll send the rock band out as entertainment while the festivities are going on before the departure."
While the band's primary purpose is performing, that doesn't mean they aren't trained for combat in case they're needed. They are a highly trained group of soldiers that maintain a full training schedule including an annual weapons qualification, basic soldier training, combat readiness, and many other skills, according to their website. But Saunders said performing is nothing in comparison to being deployed.
"To leave your family for a year or more … what we do is very small by comparison," he said. "(It's) a very small sacrifice."
Still, Saunders said their work can be comforting for those with loved ones who are serving in the armed forces.
"I've had people come up to me after a concert with tears in their eyes, just saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you. I have a son who is in the military. I have a son who is in Iraq.' I've seen that multiple times," he said.