You Got the Job! Staff Sergeant Kate Walsh

Staff Sergeant Kate Walsh • America's MusiciansJanuary 2024 • January 8, 2024

You got the job!” he shouted at me through the phone. The voice on the other end was a friend from long ago, currently technical support group leader at The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in Washington, D.C. As I sat at Buffalo Wild Wings, warm tears of relief filled my eyes. I was going to be the stage manager at Pershing’s Own! After many months of waiting, submitting a resume and audition packet, I had finally gotten my dream job.

Seventeen years prior to that call, I had raised my right hand and repeated the Oath of Enlistment at a military entrance processing station in Raleigh, NC. As a 17-year-old who just finished my junior year of high school, I was ready – and nervous – to join the Army National Guard. Earlier that year, a recruiter stepped into my high school band class to talk about Army National Guard bands. I had barely heard of the National Guard, and I CERTAINLY had no idea there were National Guard bands! I was playing oboe at the time and the recruiter said “You know, they don’t have an oboe player in the North Carolina National Guard. Maybe you should audition?”

I went home and talked to my parents who were supportive because my father had retired from the Army just four years earlier, after almost 22 years of service. I grew up in the Army. I knew what the expectations were and what Army life was like. I wouldn’t be doing it full-time because I chose the National Guard. This would be a “one-weekend-a-month and two weeks in the summer” kind of commitment. It gave me the freedom to continue to explore my own interests without giving up my hard-earned musical investment, so off I went.

I struggled through basic training. It was my first time away from home and I was only 17. Those were the longest nine weeks of my life. I graduated about a week before my senior year. What a whirlwind! Now I had purpose in life. I had a plan for after high school and I had a lifetime of music ahead of me. 

I spent the next ten years in the North Carolina National Guard. I played oboe for about a year, then moved back and forth from clarinet to flute as needed. I was promoted twice, met some of the most amazing friends, and fluttered between college and different full-time civilian jobs trying to find the best balance. 

In 2015, I married my boyfriend. He was a pilot for a regional carrier for United Airlines. I met him in my civilian job as a flight attendant. I was still playing flute in the guard, but when I wasn’t in my Army uniform, I was in my flight attendant uniform, traveling the country and meeting the most interesting people. Shortly after getting married, my new husband landed his dream job at UPS Airlines. He would be based in Louisville, Kentucky, and we had to relocate. How was I supposed to travel between Kentucky and North Carolina to fulfill my National Guard commitment?

Luckily, the guard allows you to transfer from one state to another if the outgoing unit allows you, and the incoming unit has room for you. The Kentucky National Guard band needed a flute player and a vocalist, and I was just the person for the job! I transferred my enlistment to Kentucky, thinking I would finish my career there. In my mind, I thought it was finally time to settle down. I was married and we had a good income. We bought a house and started our family. We got two dogs and became involved in our local church. Life was great.

Enter the United Military Academy Band at West Point. Just three years after moving to Kentucky and joining the National Guard Band in Frankfort, an audition was announced for a commercial (Top 40s) vocalist at the band at West Point, New York. Being a stay-at-home-mom and housewife wasn’t turning out to be everything I thought it would be. I wanted something for myself that allowed me to contribute to the family. I chose to take the audition, thinking nothing would come of it. 

I ended up winning the audition. We picked up and moved to New York to live at West Point. I was singing and serving in the Army. I performed in front of thousands of people at MetLife Stadium, sang the National Anthem for countless NHL, NFL, and MLB games, and recorded music videos for our Facebook and Instagram pages. I felt a little like a celebrity. On the outside, everything was perfect. What no one knew was inside the walls of my house, my family was falling apart. 

In 2021, just three years after arriving at West Point, I got divorced. We had two kids together and had barely survived six years of marriage. It wasn’t the Army’s fault we didn’t make it. If anything, being a soldier gave me the courage to leave. I knew I had the career skills and the leadership experience to handle life on my own. I could dig myself out of the dark hole I was in and provide my kids with a happy, healthy life. I soon realized to move on and move up, I had to move out of West Point. 

This is when I received that wondrous phone call mentioned earlier. After all I had been through, I was getting a fresh start. In February 2023, I relocated to Washington, D.C. to start my new career. The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” gave me a job as a stage manager, allowing me to use my leadership experience and organizational skills to manage their performances. 

Here I am, thriving and growing in this hectic work environment with some of the most amazing coworkers and friends. I’m using the Army’s tuition assistance program to get my degree in astrobiology. My children have healthcare, my family has a home, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Does my story surprise you? I wonder if you’ve ever considered the Army could offer so much to one person. The Army offers opportunities. It opens doors. It provides income and benefits and a purpose. The 17-year-old girl in her high school band class could have never imagined where she would go and what she would become, and she certainly didn’t know the Army would help her get there.

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