Only the strong wear our colors...
Decked out in black and yellow uniforms, we marched through the tunnel into the stadium. The drumsticks clicked together, counting us off to a steady beat. I stood surrounded by 124 others of the nation's best high school musicians and color guard performers.
Our feet marched in unison as we entered the audience of nearly 40,000 people. We stood at attention, facing the crowd as they cheered. Soak this moment in, I told myself. Soak it in.
I was about to experience the performance of a lifetime.
"Ladies and gentlemen... please welcome the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Marching Band!"
And we took off. Music filled the stadium, our feet beating to the enchanting sounds we created. I had goose bumps during the entire performance; I have goose bumps simply attempting to write about this. The unearthly experience was so magnificent that I fear words would never be able to do it justice. Music is a language that captures what cannot be put into words, but even watching the performance videos and hearing the music doesn't do this feeling justice.
Our feet marched in unison as we hit a chord and created a star formation -- the logo of the United States Army.
But perhaps the greatest part of it all was looking up into the audience as we played the melody of the Army song. The entire left side of the stadium was filled with America's warriors, dressed in their Army uniform -- people who have given themselves for the greater good of others. People who have sacrificed themselves for freedom in ways we could never comprehend. People who are a visible representation of excellence. People who aren't afraid to give up their entire lives to become just one of thousands who look exactly like them in the identical camouflage uniforms. People who have given themselves to become a part of something bigger.
And in our simple performance, we gave that back to them. We became a visible representation of the excellence they abide by, a tiny representation of their sacrifice. I may have just been one of 125 people dressed in exactly the same marching band uniform. Yet I was a part of something bigger than myself, giving up my sense of who I am as a person to match the goal of the greater group -- something the members of the army do every day.
After five-and-a-half minutes, we played the final note. The drum major's arm's flashed through the air, coming to a halt as we finished. The chord echoed throughout the entire Alamodome, ringing back from the ears to the souls of each and every person in the audience. "HOOAH!" we screamed after that final note, then standing in silence as the crowd cheered. All I wanted was to capture this fleeting moment and make it last forever.
Just as soon as the show had begun, it finished. But it didn't end after we marched off the field back into the tunnel. It didn't end after those amazing minutes after the performance where we hugged and cried and lived off the rush of adrenaline of the best performance of our lives thus far. It didn't end after we took off our yellow and black uniforms, passing them on to the next class of All-Americans -- the next class who will wear those colors and the logo of the United States Army.
We captured lightning in a bottle, as our director said. We captured the power of music, the uniting force of music -- something I believe in more than anything. And that lightning will never dissipate.
Before I knew it, I was on a plane back to my hometown. But somehow I know this experience wouldn't leave me anytime soon. Somehow I know that our performance connected each and every one of us; a part of us will never leave each other. We will always be connected. While we were strangers just weeks ago, we were connected by music for five-and-a-half minutes during this one-week experience. We were together as one, wearing the colors and logo that represent the people who deserve our highest respect. And a bond like that will never cease to exist -- it can't just be torn apart after a performance like this -- even when we return to our own corners of the universe.
I wish I could describe every single aspect of this experience. I wish I could capture the feeling from the first night when the Army Rock Band performed for us and the lead singer welcomed us by saying that not just anyone can wear the colors or the logo. I wish I could capture the feeling of working with the Army Field Band mentors, where I was able to work with such an accomplished flutist and hear her perspective on life as a musician. I wish I could capture the bond between the piccolo section. I wish I could capture the wisdom and insight that each and every person shared with us. I wish I could capture how thankful I am for the time the music professors, program directors and others put in to make this week an unforgettable one. I wish I could capture each second of this life-changing experience and share it with the world.
But I do know one thing. We aren't who we are as a single person; we are who we represent, and we are what we accomplish as something greater than us. For those five-and-a-half minutes, and as we carry on the legacy, we represented those who have fought for our freedom in ways we could never comprehend.
No matter how many days pass or wherever we go in our lives, we will always carry the title of All-American. We aren't just half-American; we don't just half-way prance our way through life. We live life full-out and do everything with our ALL. We wear the Army logo with pride.
And because we don't live life halfway, I know we won't be stopping with that five-and-a-half minute performance. We are All-Americans, and All-Americans live life to the fullest. Our legacy will carry on forever; our bond created through music will never be broken. We will continue to grasp onto any tangible representation we have of one of the best weeks of our lives -- whether it be through pictures, through our All-American jacket or through proudly wearing the Army logo. We will pass down our legacy to the future generations who will wear our uniforms, we will hold our experiences with us every day of our lives, we will crack open the lightning we captured in a bottle and share the beauty with our corners of the universe and we will continue to give back to the brave men and women who have given us more than we could ever comprehend.
We are All-Americans, and we will share this legacy with the world.
Only the strong wear our logo.