Central High's Band Director, a Marine, Reflects on Hunt for Heroes Kickoff
SAN ANGELO, TX — Joey Ashbrook, now in his middle age, still sports a haircut of a jarhead. The old U.S. Marine, now director of the Central High School Bobcat Band, reflects on his short stint in the military that he enjoyed in the late 1980s.
“I needed the G.I. Bill,” Ashbrook said. He signed up for a tour of duty during the Cold War, back when the U.S. Military was led by, and still reeling from, its leadership’s experience in the Vietnam War. The military was always fighting its last war, like it is now, except today’s wars never seem to end. The war in Afghanistan, which started in 2001 when it was known as Operation Enduring Freedom, still rages on, 17 years later.
Ashbrook spent all of his years on active duty at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, playing saxophone in the base band there. A few years later, he was off to college at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches to earn his BA in Music Education, harnessing the G.I. Bill he earned to pay for it.
Ashbrook can recall the Marine Corps basic training and can relate to that part of the plight of younger men and women involved in today’s permanent hot wars, but his experience was in another time and place. Cold Warriors spent their tenures in the military preparing for war; today’s warfighters get deployed to hot zones, usually in the Middle East, for battle.
When the Central Bobcat’s stadium football game announcer Sonny Cleere asked Ashbrook several years ago to help him organize a parade to honor younger veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the band director agreed right away. The Bobcat band has been a fixture of the kick-off to a weekend of hunting and comradery for wounded combat veterans ever since.
Annually, Cleere’s group, a non-profit named San Angelo Support for Veterans, holds the Hunt for Heroes. Area ranch owners offer the use of their land to bring as many as two-dozen vets suffering from some form of battlefield injury for a free hunt. Everything is supplied, to include a rifle for each participant, donated by a San Angelo-area sponsors. They get to keep the guns.
Army and Combat Veteran Chris Gill, founder of Lone Star Warriors Outdoors, selects the participants for the hunt. The selection is from a pool of about 50,000 wounded warriors who served in the U.S. Military during the most recent hot wars. The hunts are therapeutic, Gill told me last year. It offers an event where combat veterans who come from similar experiences can re-connect.
This year, all weekend long, about 16 veterans will be participating in hunts and revelry around the San Angelo area.
The event used to be kicked off with a parade. This year, however, the organizers decided to hold a concert at the San Angelo RiverStage instead. Kirk Cleere noted that the past two years, the parade was plagued with extremely cold weather. Holding the event at the RiverStage in lieu of a parade may work better, he said.
Ashbrook put together the program and will include the entire high school concert band. Selections to be played include “This is My Country”, “Yankee Doodle”, “God Bless America”, and a medley of military marches. The band will also perform the signature songs of each branch of the U.S. Military, like “Wild Blue Yonder”, “The Army Goes Marching Along”, “Anchors Away”, and (of course) the Marines’ Hymn, commonly referred to as “Halls of Montezuma.”
Ashbrook said a special highlight of Central’s flute and piccolo section will happen during the John Phillip Souza standard “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Dignitaries from San Angelo will attend, including Mayor Brenda Gunter and 17 TRW Wing Commander Col. Ricky Mills from Goodfellow Air Force Base. Each veteran participating this year will be recognized.
The event, on Thursday, Dec. 6 at noon at the RiverStage, is open to the public and organizers hope to see a sizable turnout this year.