To Battle We Go: Pass in Review!
By: Dr. Steve Kellner
Flying back home after playing in the territorial band for Commissioning in early June, my mind turned to similar large scale “ceremonial” events I have been a part of. Because I spent 25 years playing in military bands it was my pleasure (ok, sometimes not so pleasurable!) to play for hundreds, if not thousands, of ceremonies big and small. I can’t remember my first military ceremony, but the very last ceremony I was part of was President Reagan’s funeral procession from the White House to the Capitol, where he lay in state.
The largest ceremonial event I ever took part in was during my very first year in the U.S. Army, a Division Review of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Stewart, Georgia, just outside Savannah. I played for many pass and review ceremonies at Fort Stewart, but this one involved the entire division, well over 20,000 troops. And it wasn’t just the troops that would march past the reviewing stand. Because the 24th was the “heavy” division in the Rapid Deployment Force, the pass in review would include hundreds of tanks, heavy artillery pieces, helicopters, and missile launchers.
Everything about the ceremony was supersized. The field on which we marched was several acres. The rehearsal took the better part of an entire day. The band’s flip folders contained 16 marches and we played through them all more than once as the troops marched by. Microphones had to be placed around the band and the music broadcast over the PA system so that the troops could hear it well enough to march in step.
Every command – Attention! Parade Rest! Present Arms! – given by the commander of troops, a brigadier general, took several minutes to be relayed down from division level to brigade to battalion to company to platoon, and back up again. The pass and review itself featured a fighter jet flyover, Army Rangers rappelling from helicopters, and tanks cutting tracks a foot deep in the parade field. It was a day I’ll never forget.
Costly ceremonies like this might seem to be an unnecessary use of time and resources, but they are a vital part of military culture. Just seeing the entire division on the field that day helped unify us, and you got a feeling of pride and strength seeing all those soldiers and all that military hardware pass by and fly over. And, importantly, our commanding general got to see us all at once, and we got to see and hear from him. It was an opportunity for him to cast the vision for the entire division with everyone hearing it at the same time.
Some believe that The Salvation Army spends too much time and resources on big events like Commissioning, but I think they are an important and necessary part of Salvation Army culture going back to William Booth’s days. (He certainly planned a lot of them!) Our work is hard and most of our corps are small, so it is good to be among hundreds or even thousands of Salvationists on occasion. It helps unify us, gives us a feeling of strength, and encourages us to redouble our efforts on the mission front. Our leaders get to see us, and we get to see and hear them cast their vision, as our territorial leaders did at the recent Commissioning Weekend.
Unfortunately, there were not as many Salvationists present to hear that vision as I would have liked. So let us not forsake gathering together at large Salvation Army events. The Holy Spirit has a track record of moving in and on large crowds all at once, with many miraculous events following shortly thereafter. So, I hope to see you at Commissioning next year.