Northwestern Magazine
Winter 2005 Home Alumni News Class Notes Student Life Mailbox Purple Prose Back Issues
Story Links
Back to On Duty
Submit a Class Note
Submit a Purple Prose
E-mail the Editor
Read Our Back Issues
Update Your Address
Advertise with Us
Contact Us

Strike Up the Band

James Wood Jr. and Michelle Rakers


When Army Staff Sgt. James Wood Jr. (GMu94) and the other members of the U.S. Army Field Band pulled into a motel frequented by hunters in rural South Dakota, they were greeted by a sign that read, “No Cleaning of Game in Room.” Not the usual accommodations you’d expect for the band that for nearly 60 years has headed each presidential inaugural parade, performed in all 50 states and nearly 30 foreign countries and entertained dignitaries around the world. But, as Wood says, “Life on the road can be pretty interesting!”

Wood, a trumpeter, travels about 120 days a year with the 65-piece concert band, which includes Ben Bokor (Mu00), Chandra Cervantes (GMu96) and Paul Martin (Mu85), and a 30-member chorus. They bring their music to everyone from small groups on high school lawns to the more than 700,000 who watched their performance this past Fourth of July along the banks of the Charles River in Boston.

Teaching or performing with an orchestra were options for Wood, who chose instead the Army Field Band “because of the quality of musicianship, the competitive salary and benefits, job stability and the fantastic location near Washington, D.C.,” he says.

The reputation, the opportunity to perform in the White House and the fact that “the music is fun to play” led Lt. Michelle Rakers (GMu91) to join the U.S. Marine Band, dubbed “The President’s Own” by Thomas Jefferson more than 200 years ago. The band performs at White House functions, state funerals, all Marine full honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and public concerts in the Washington, D.C., area.

Rakers is the first commissioned female officer and the first female assistant director in the 207-year history of the “The President’s Own.” She leads a third of the group’s roughly 500 annual public performances, including educational outreach programs for Washington-area schools. Of her firsts, she says, “The most important facet of a woman in this position is the mentorship opportunity. With each step a woman takes into a position that has been traditionally male, it allows young girls to see opportunity and opens up their dreams and doorways a little wider.”

Rakers is joined in the band by Peter Wilson (Mu90), Gabriel Gitman (Mu94), Vicki Gotcher (GMu94, 95), Glenn Dewey (GMu91), Otis Goodlett (GMu99) and Robert Singer (GMu02). — T.S.

Staff Sgt. James Wood Jr.
Army Staff Sgt. James Wood Jr. plays the trumpet with the U.S. Army Field Band. Photo by Rose Ryon, courtesy of James Wood Jr.