The Triple Nickel: The End of an Era - Air National Guard Band of the Lakes Decommissioned After 90 Years of Service
By Airman First Class William Winston, Public Affairs
/ Published December 07, 2011
Swanton, Ohio -- More commonly known as the Triple Nickel from the days when it was named 555th Air Force Band, the band has been in existence since the 1920s. Existing well before the Air Force became a separate branch of the armed services, the band has gone through several name changes before earning its current title as Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes.
For nearly 90 years the Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes has been a symbol of professionalism and a source of excellent community relations.
Recently a decision was made to consolidate Air Force bands across the country. As a part of this decision the ANG Band of the Great Lakes will be decommissioned in 2013.
"The historical facts about the band have been passed down through the years," said Air Force Master Sgt. Matthew Wittman, a tuba player in the ANG Band of the Great Lakes.
Wittman said the band's original roots began in April, 1923 when the Army's 148th Regiment Band was formed. Later the 148th Regiment Band was renamed the 148th Infantry Band. The band's home station was in Toledo, OH.
The 148th Infantry Band joined other military bands from Ohio to serve in the Pacific division in WWII. When the bands completed their missions in WWII they all split up.
After WWII, the original members of the 148th Infantry Band sought to create a new band to bring the band members back together. In 1948, they received permission from the state of Ohio to form an Air Force band in Toledo. The new band was designated the name 555th Air Force Band.
In 2003, the Ohio ANG assigned the band new areas of responsibility. It became responsible for performing band functions in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. This is when the band received the name ANG Band of the Great Lakes.
"The main focus has been community relations and military functions as well as deploying with and augmenting active duty units," said Senior Master Sgt. Philip D. Smith, trombone player and superintendent of the ANG Band of the Great Lakes.
Smith said all members of the band are traditional guardsmen, therefore investing a lot of their personal time in order to accomplish their mission at a high level.
"We have people fly in from Florida, Arizona, and New York," Smith explained that some band members fly from other states in order to fulfill their commitment to the band.
The band serves many musical functions, performing as a rock band, jazz band, a jazz combo band, brass quintet, woodwind quintet and a ceremonial band.
Additionally, Smith said the band runs their own sound equipment at performances as well as driving the trucks that transport band equipment.
Wittman described one of his fondest memories of being a member of the band was when it deployed to Hungary in August 1998. Deploying 38 performers and four support personnel to Hungary, the group was teamed up with a Hungarian army translator and the group gave eight performances in six different cities.
Also, Smith said the band has deployed to England and Iraq in similar capacities.
"We are in the people business," said Smith. "We are in the business of building support for the military."
Furthermore, Smith said the impact of the band does not show up as a statistics or budget sheet. The contributions of the band are exemplified when veterans are brought to tears at a performance because the music reminds these veterans of their time in the military. Also when deployed, service members get a taste of home from the band's musical performances.
"When people get in the band they stay in until retirement," said Smith. "Few people get out of the band after they start this career field."
When band members first heard the news of the band going away, Smith said, they were upset and sad.
"You cannot get much tighter as a unit than you are in the band. Having the musician aspect in the group gives us a special bond," said Smith. "We all love each other like a family."
"We are disappointed because we do not get to be a part of the ANG," said Smith. "We feel like our mission for the ANG is highly important and unique."
Wittman described the morale as being pretty high, all things considered. This is a direct reflection of the professionalism of all of the band members. They figure the best thing to do is to the best job with the time that they have left.
"The group is handling this situation very professionally," said Smith. "Our plan is to go out with class. We are going to keep mission focused. We want the last memories of the 555th to be that we did our best until the end."
Wittman explained one thing that sticks out in his mind about his time in the band is the level of support that the 180th Fighter Wing has given the band. "The support from the 180th has been simply amazing," said Wittman. "As most people know we aren't dedicated to the 180th FW but there is not a better Wing to serve for or be a family at."