FORT McCOY, Wis. –
Command Sgt. Maj. Sara E. Noskowiak passed her 1840 U.S. noncommissioned officer musicians sword and the title of U.S. Army Reserve Music Sergeant Major to Master Sgt. Keith Barlow during a change of responsibility ceremony Saturday, Oct. 20, at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
“I knew Barlow would make it to sergeant major,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Noskowiak, outgoing U.S. Army Reserve Music Sergeant Major, and life-long oboist, before the ceremony. “He has vision of what Army music is, and the ability to take it to the next level. It’s one thing to be a musician, but it’s another to understand its strategic impact and employ it.”
Barlow assumes responsibility of all USAR bands from the 88th Readiness Division, and for the first time, it’s supported by all of the readiness divisions.
“Previously the single U.S. Army Music Reserve Sergeant Major stayed in one band, so the guidance for the music program was uneven. Recently they took the billet out of the band and up to the 88th RD. During my tenure we facilitated all the readiness divisions signing a memorandum, saying ‘yes, we will support your position,’ which raises the volume of Army Music’s voice to U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) level,” said Noskowiak.
The escalation of position helps the bands communicate their needs at the USARC level for funding and training,
“I can grease the skids. Hopefully we can get Army bands into deployment zones again. I am a liaison to and from all music units,” said Barlow, former Army music advisor for the three Army bands under the Mission Command Support Group of the 63rd Readiness Division, citing the lost combat heritage of Army bands, which dates back to the Revolutionary War.
Noskowiak set a high-speed tempo for Barlow’s advancement of new Army music goals, syncopating, then raising standards within every band.
“U.S. Army Reserve Soldier Musicians need to toe the line,” said Barlow, self-proclaimed mathematics and music nerd. “I want to encourage them to raise the bar in technical proficiencies and combat readiness. “
“We aren’t community musicians that wear a uniform. We are U.S. Army Soldiers that are musicians,” said both Noskowiak and Barlow.
The high standards are born out of love for music and Army history.
“Our job is telling the Army’s story, and making you feel it in your soul. If you don’t feel something, then we aren’t selecting the right music, or hitting the right note,” said Noskowiak, mother of four, and a former drill sergeant.
For Barlow, a trombone player since fourth grade, music meant an early understanding of camaraderie, something all Soldiers can relate to.
“Honing my skill was fulfilling, forming friendships during band festivals and marching band kept me going. I think that’s true for a lot of musicians.”
Barlow, a father of three, modeled his musical dedication at home by showing the importance of practice.
“When my son started playing violin in elementary school, I got a violin, too. We learned to play the scales, and Hot Cross Buns together,” he reminisces as Dixieland music, his father’s favorite genre, plays from the portable speaker on his desk.
Fatherly experience prepared him for this new role.
“My job, like parenting, is teaching how to play within the rules and accepted practices of any organization. Sometimes my role is helping them do what they are already trying to do. Sometimes my role is playing the bad guy. My job is to help the bands make self-sustaining improvements within Army’s rules, and use my visibility at USARCs level to create opportunities, like future deployments.”