Once a year, the U.S. Army chooses a couple of cities for a special treat – an arena-sized patriotic show featuring music, battle re-enactments and military precision drills from some of the Army’s elite ceremonial units – including The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the U.S. Army Band and the U.S. Army Drill Team.
The show also includes the personal stories of soldiers who, through the years, have answered the call to serve their country – all performed by active duty soldiers from the Military Department of Washington.
This year for the first time, the Spirit of America show is coming to Columbia and Colonial Life Arena. The show will have two performances each on Sept. 21 and 22. And it’s free.
“This is not your typical concert or family show,” said David Cox of arena managers Global Spectrum. “It’s performed by active-duty soldiers. This isn’t their normal day job – serving their country in Washington, D.C. It’s pretty amazing and exciting that they’ve chosen Columbia for this opportunity.”
During the show, soldiers in historical uniforms re-enact key moments in the U.S. Army and American history. The re-enactments include battle scenes with short periods of simulated gunfire interspersed with performances by the U.S. Army Band – “Pershing’s Own” – and soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment – The Old Guard – the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army. Elements of The Old Guard include The U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the Caisson Platoon, the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, the Continental Color Guard and the U.S. Army Drill Team.
In all, about 300 soldiers will be performing, including seven from South Carolina.
Among them is Staff Sgt. Thomas Dell’Omo, 38. He is a percussionist in the U.S. Army Band who has performed in the show four years straight.
“It’s something different for us as a unit and we look forward to it every year,” said Dell’Omo, who attended Spring Valley while his father was stationed at Fort Jackson.
Dell’Omo and the band play at ceremonial functions in Washington – state visits, official ceremonies and special events. He has performed for the Queen of England and the president of China. But most days, he plays at funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.
“When it’s a World War II soldier, it’s kind of like a celebration of a full life,” said Dell’Omo, taking a break from rehearsal last week. “When we play for those young families (of service members killed in action) it’s a very, very difficult day.”
Other performers from South Carolina will be:
• Sgt. First Class William Linney of Columbia – Army Band
Spc. Thomas Wilder of Columbia – The Old Guard
• Sgt First Class Robert Aughtry of Gaffney – Army Band
• Private First Class Cole Davidson of Charleston – The Old Guard
• Spc. Garrett Hamilton of Easley – The Old Guard
• Master Sgt. Greg Lowery of Charleston – Army Band
The Spirit of America shows are always presented in cities on the East Coast. If there is an emergency in Washington, such as 9/11, the soldiers have to quickly return to their real job – guarding the nation’s capital. Greensboro, N.C., is the only other city to host the show this year.
“We want to stay east of the Mississippi, within a day’s drive of the capital,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, the two-star general who commands the Military District of Washington.
Linnington said he will attend all four performances at Colonial Life Arena.
“It really highlights the richness of our Army and showcases how talented young people really are,” he said.
The genesis of this year’s performance in Columbia came in 2011, when Ike McLeese, chief executive of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and a civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army, was among the packed houses watching the show in North Charleston Coliseum.
“It was one of the most spectacular lives performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeese said.
During a reception, McLeese met Linnington and invited him to stage the show in Columbia this year.
“I said ‘What are you doing in a Navy and Air force town when the Army town is up the road?’” McLeese said.
Linnington and his staff contacted Colonial Life Arena, “And they rolled the red carpet out for us,” he said.
The show is not only a showcase for Army traditions and expertise, but also a community outreach and recruiting tool, the general said.
“Everywhere we do this show, we get young and old alike who come up to us afterward and are in tears,” he said. “It inspires them to a calling to service, and you will see some actual re-enlistments. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”