As recently as 2010, the Pentagon budgeted more than $500 million per year for military bands, with the largest portion of that -- $195 million -- allocated to Army bands. That same year, the US Marines sponsored 600 musicians in 12 bands, costing $35 million, according to government figures. Across the entire military, taxpayers spent about $1.5 billion annually on music and entertainment programs, according to one analysis.
But now, the Defense Department has plans to shut down many of the military's best-known music and entertainment programs. On Friday, Tops In Blue, the Air Force's renowned traveling entertainment show consisting of active duty airmen, played its last show. It now is on indefinite hiatus while the Air Force evaluates the cost effectiveness -- between $3 million and $10 million, depending on how one calculates performer salaries, food, lodging, transportation costs and other support costs.
Similarly, the Army announced last week that the Army Soldier Show, its counterpart to Tops In Blue, would be canceled immediately. No explanation was given for the termination of the Broadway-styled show that had played to large crowds around the world since 1983. The cancellation notice occurred just a month after dozens of active-duty, reserve and national guard personnel journeyed to Joint Base San Antonia to try out for the show during auditions Dec. 18.
The tour was set to begin early next month. Instead, participants as of last week received notice from Army Installation Management Command saying it had been "canceled effective immediately."
Other Army units are also seeing their bands disappearing. The Army announced last month that the 40-member 392nd Army Band, in Fort Lee, VA, will be reduced to a dozen soldiers in 2016. And in another cut-back, Operation Rising Star, the service-wide singing contest that's been in place for more than a decade, also canceled its 2016 season. Despite the cuts, he Defense Department is set to spend around $1.5 billion on bands and other entertainment programs across the military branches.
In all, nearly 200 Army band member positions are being eliminated Army-wide, with cuts planned for the the U.S. Army Signal Corps Band based at Fort Gordon, GA; The 98th Army "Silver Wings" Band based at Fort Rucker, AL; and the 113th Army Band based at Fort Knox, KY.
The discontinuation of military bands represents a huge change in military spending priorities. In 2011, a Pentagon analyst predicted the military had planned to spend $50 billion over the next 50 years on bands and related costs.