- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - Considering that his parents met while both were playing trumpet in a high school band and his father is an Army retiree, it was perhaps inevitable that Warrant Officer 1 ?Jac?’?kel ?R. ?Smalls would one day play with an Army band.

Having served in four of them already, he became the new commander of Fort Sill’s 77th Army Band on Sept. 29.

The 31-year-old ?Smalls is a native of Goose Creek, South Carolina, 20 minutes north of Charleston. His parents, Jacqueline and William Simmons, still live there. ?Smalls?’ father was a mechanic during his 20 years in the service, and his 26-year-old brother is serving as an Army dental hygienist in South Korea.

The band director says the first instrument he took up was the trumpet, when he was in sixth grade. In high school he played the euphonium in Goose Creek High School’s marching band and trombone in the jazz ensemble, The Lawton Constitution reported (http://bit.ly/ZTQzpI ).

“It’s funny how I came on the euphonium. Our director at the time, she was really big on not playing other people’s instruments. So I was kind of a wild child at that point. And I didn’t listen, of course, and I was playing somebody’s euphonium, and instead of getting mad at me when she caught me, she was like, ‘Wow! You sound really good. Would you like to play euphonium?’ So I made the switch right there and have been playing it ever since,” ?Smalls said.

Upon graduating high school, he earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from Winthrop University at Rock Hill, South Carolina.

“I had a passion for influencing our younger generation, and that kind of drove me to wanting to be a band director,” he explained. “My band director was a big influence on me when I was in high school, and I kind of wanted to do what he did. He was somebody I looked up to, and I was good at music, and it just felt natural just to want to pursue that career.”

?Smalls was facing some choices when he graduated from Winthrop.

“I was still pretty young, and I felt that ‘there’s something else out there for me.’ And I thought about the military at various points in time while I was in college,” he said.

He decided that it was something he might do for a few years, just to see what was out there. He explored Army band programs, talked to a couple of people and decided to join up.

He didn’t have to travel far for basic training - Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It was challenging, and definitely a different culture.

“I wasn’t used to the ‘in your face’-type thing. My father was in, but he wasn’t that type of person, so I’d never seen that culture before. You get 50 people in a platoon and you throw them together from different backgrounds. You see how people operate, basically,” he found.

His next stop was advanced individual training at the U.S. Army School of Music at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia. It’s where all the Army, Navy and Marine Corps musicians go to learn how service bands operate and how they march in ceremonies. Since his college didn’t have a marching band, he hadn’t marched in four years, and it was quite a bit different than on the gridiron.

At that time, the course was six months long but it was possible to accelerate the schedule by meeting requirements at a certain time. By doing that, ?Smalls was able to graduate as a specialist within four months and ship out to his first assignment with the 2nd Infantry Division Band, Uijongbu, Korea. He flew over with only two bags. Army musicians don’t have to worry about getting their instruments through airport security; they’re issued them when they arrive at their duty station.

Korea was a great experience for ?Smalls.

“I got to meet some great people that I still talk to to this day. My roommate just got out of the Army, and we still keep in touch. We helped each other do that tour. We got to learn the culture of the Koreans. That was amazing, their history and what they’ve been through as a people I never knew before I served there,” ?Smalls said.

The conductor of that band was a good leader, he recalls: “He was hard, but he was fair, and he knew what he was doing as a commander. And I still remember that to this day. Serving under him was one of the first times I thought about becoming a warrant officer.”

?Smalls has since served with the 392nd Army Band at Fort Lee, Virginia; the 56th Army Band at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; and the 1st Armored Division Band at Fort Bliss, Texas, accumulating numerous awards and ribbons along the way.

After one year at Bliss, he was selected to become a warrant officer. He attended the five-week Candidate School for Warrant Officers at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and then returned to the Army music school for the eightweek Basic School for his military occupational specialty of 42 Charlie. He graduated Aug. 29 and assumed command of his first Army band a month later, just seven years into his military career.

Some of his colleagues told him this is the only band in the Army to have bagpipes. ?Smalls quickly began doing research on Facebook to see what Costello’s Own Pipe Band was like. Now that he’s on the ground here, ?Smalls has yet to try playing bagpipes himself, though he does try to integrate what the bagpipers do into the band as a whole as much as possible.

“I think it just adds so much more to our organization,” he said.

The band will soon be into the busiest season of the year, with two Marine Corps Birthday Balls, one for cadre and one for students; a Veterans Day Parade in Duncan; the St. Barbara’s Day Ball on Dec. 6; the annual Holiday Concert at McMahon Memorial Auditorium on Dec. 11; and a host of seasonal appearances all over Fort Sill and the surrounding community.

“It’s great being in front of outstanding musicians. They do all they can to be professional . They’re really excited about getting out in the community and playing with the concert series, and they’re excellent at doing their jobs. They have a Latin Band which I heard for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I was so impressed,” ?Smalls said. “I’m very humbled to be the leader of these fine musicians.”

?Smalls is married to Jae Eun Kim-Smalls, and they have a 16-month-old son, Alexander ?Smalls.

___

Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com

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