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Serving with Music

A Julian Middle School band director is heading to Qatar this summer to perform for troops.

Playing an instrument while singing in a rock band can be challenging enough. Try doing it in a combat zone with desert temperatures reaching as high as 130 degrees and sand blowing in the air, far away from the comforts of home.

That’s what Tom Kanwischer, 31-year-old band director at , will do this coming summer when he and other members of the Air National Guard Band of the Midwest head for their deployment cycle to the Middle East and beyond, to locations so hot that sound amplifiers have been known to melt.

This will be Kanwischer’s first time going overseas to perform since enlisting in 2005. He’ll be singing, playing bass, as well as trombone.

Kanwischer’s rock band, Permanent Party, will be bringing musical entertainment to troops weary from long assignments and searching for some comforts from home. Troops are often invited on stage to show their own musical talents with the band, as well. Additionally, they may be performing for locals throughout southwest Asia, in countries like Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Afghanistan and possibly locations in Africa.

“It’s really a two-fold mission,” he said. “Part of it is troop morale, but the other part is sending a goodwill message.”

“It’s a war zone...That’s why we go over. We’re trained to defend ourselves.”

Kanwischer was told about the opportunity to enlist from Brooks Middle School band director Jayme Barnard, who already has 18 years of experience under his belt playing clarinet and saxophone for the Air National Guard Band of the Midwest. But Kanswischer, a Batavia native, also was motivated by a family military background that includes a Marine drill sergeant, and WWII and Vietnam war veterans.

“It’s something I grew up with,” he said, noting his father served with the Air Force in Vietnam. “When the opportunity was presented to me to serve as a musician, that seemed like the right thing to do, and what I wanted to do.”

Julian students already learned about Kanwischer’s military service when he talked about it for Veteran’s Day. He said he’s not likely to miss school, but the exact duration of his deployment won’t be known until the trip is over. Since many other members are teachers as well, Kanwischer said he knows there’s emphasis on keeping close to the summer break schedule, and not beyond.

The locations are also to be kept secret, so Kanwischer can’t share where he’s visited until he gets home. Nor can he take his wife, an physical education teacher, with him. Unlike previous performances during his service in locations like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, this international tour will have a whole different level of danger.

“It’s a war zone,” he said. “You’re talking about places that get attacked. That’s why we go over. We’re trained to defend ourselves.”

Performing in this band is no light commitment outside of his already busy teaching duties, but Kanwischer said he likes it enough that he’s just re-enlisted for another six years.

Kanwischer’s band will replace the previous rotation band, Sidewinder, which already has more than 2 million hits for its cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”

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