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Technical Sergeant Erick Quintanilla – Air National Guard Bands

SBO Staff • America's MusiciansApril 2023 • April 2, 2023

Technical sergeant (TSgt) Erick Quintanilla is a citizen Airman, serving as both a musician in the Air National Guard Band of the West Coast and as a music educator for the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

Like many, Quintanilla’s ideals and work ethic have been shaped by his life experiences. Growing up in Mid-City Los Angeles, he experienced challenges such as gang violence, rampant drug use in his community, and civil unrest during the 1992 riots. Witnessing these events as a young man inspired him to serve his state and nation and to create better opportunities for himself and his community. Mr. Davis, Quintanilla’s first band director, was an incredible jazz saxophonist and was highly influential in shaping his future. 

As a Los Angeles Unified School District student,   Quintanilla began his musical career in the seventh grade as a saxophonist, later switching to tuba in high school. From the first day he picked up an instrument, his passion and drive for music were fueled by the idea that music provided hope and had the potential to lead to success. After attending Berendo Middle School (the same middle school famed aviator, Air Force General, and Medal of Honor winner Jimmy Doolittle attended),   Quintanilla attended Hamilton High School Music Academy, a unique magnet school where students could work with several music teachers. Among those teachers was Mr. Greg Robinson, an Air National Guard band member.

In April 2000,   Quintanilla enlisted as a tuba player in the Air National Guard. However, the events of 9/11 made him want to do more. As a result, he served as an augmentee with the 146th Security Forces Squadron, and then after this voluntary assignment, he cross-trained to the 146th Maintenance Squadron as a propulsion specialist on the C130 aircraft. Shortly after, he went on his first overseas deployment. “My first deployment with maintenance was surreal,” says Quintanilla. “I was serving in an aviation field, which I loved as much as music, and I had the opportunity to travel to places like Africa, Iraq, and Qatar. This experience was incredible for my growth as a person and military leader.” 

After nearly six years in maintenance, an experience that helped ground and focus him,   Quintanilla returned to his former career field as a bandsman. Despite the responsibilities of being a husband and father, he sacrificed his civilian job as a commercial truck driver to focus on completing his college degree and developing his career as a professional musician. During this time, he prepared the 562nd Air Force Band’s first Latin Music ensemble, Fuego Azul, for overseas deployment. Not only did he help create and train this group, but he also recruited many of its members. Their experience as professional civilian musicians allowed this group to develop an authentic sound. Fuego Azul deployed in the summer of 2012 under the alias Vector, and the group included several of Quintanilla’s high school friends.   Quintanilla earned the Air Force Commendation medal for developing and leading this ensemble.

In 2013, Quintanilla completed his Master of Music Performance degree at Azusa Pacific University, CA, and began his California teaching credential program. The following year he started teaching at Hollenbeck Middle School, accomplishing his long-sought goal of becoming an educator and mentor to the Los Angeles community. In 2015, he was awarded Rookie Teacher of the Year, and in March 2023 he was nominated for Teacher of the Year, Los Angeles Unified School District. 

Marching parades has been another element of   Quintanilla’s musical career. In addition to being the principal tuba player of the 562nd Air Force Band, he is also the unit’s drum major. As a student, he auditioned for the Los Angeles Unified All-District High School Honor Band and marched in the Pasadena Rose Parade three years in a row. He later marched in this famous parade three times as a university student with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Honor Band, and twice more with the United States Air Force Total Force Band (2019 and 2022).

During 2022, Quintanilla had the unique honor of attending the Air Force Drum Major Academy at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. At the culminating event of this world-class training event, he was selected to lead a full honors funeral for a recently deceased colonel with the United States Air Force Ceremonial Band and United States Army Caisson Platoon, an incredible honor and something he considers a highlight of his career.

Quintanilla is an outstanding example of a hometown hero and dedicated citizen-airman serving his community and country through his love and passion for music.

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