Updated: Jan 11
Lt. Laura Garofalo, Youth Program Liaison, U.S. Coast Guard Recruiting Command
Training Center (TRACEN) Cape May in New Jersey is where all enlisted members go through boot camp, but for several talented musician/performers, the experience goes well beyond indoctrination.
Chief Musician (MUC) Edward Burke currently serves as the Ceremonial Section Chief at TRACEN Cape May. MUC Burke oversees the Recruit Band, the Recruit Color Guard Team, and the Recruit Drill Team and is assisted by another Company Commander who serves as the Drill Master for the Color Guard Team and Drill Team, and three non-rate section leaders who serve as instructors.
Edward Burke, The Recruit
Edward Burke graduated from TRACEN Cape May basic training from N-185 Company in April 2011. During his time as a recruit, he had been chosen to be in the band for his talent as a trumpet player.
Upon graduation, Burke was selected to take over the high brass section at Cape May as a section leader. His goal was to be a Marine Science Technician (MST), but the wait for this “A” School was about 2.5 years.
A few months prior to shipping off to MST “A” School, the MUC at Cape May decided to retire. As Burke already knew the job and how to manage all aspects of it, he felt he was a strong candidate. Out of the 10 candidates who were selected for an in-person interview, Burke was the final selection for the position of Ceremonial Section Chief, which was an E-7 billet. In August 2014, Eddie Burke went from SN (E-3) to MU1 (E-6) and had to immediately fill big boots at Cape May. He was able to advance to MUC in January 2019.
Edward Burke, The Company Commander
Once he was hired to fulfill the job, one of the commanders at Cape May asked Burke if he would like to attend Company Commander (CC) School. He jumped at the chance, as he felt it would allow him to immerse himself within the CC Corps and better understand the various aspects of recruit training. With only three years in the Coast Guard, Burke attended CC School in January of 2015 as the first Ceremonial Section Chief to go through the program. Although it was nerve-racking experience due to his lack of experience in the Coast Guard compared to that of his shipmates, he quickly excelled and became the class leader. Upon graduation from the school, he ran his first company immediately in May 2015 and has since run five, eight-week companies.
Although MUC’s job requires constant involvement with the various groups, he is able to run companies in the winter, as the ceremonial section slows down during the winter and his commitments to his regular job are less demanding and can be delegated to his section leaders.
Every week, new recruits get off the bus, fill out their paperwork, and begin their basic training. During this time, the Company Commanders are able to filter out musicians who have experience and could potentially be part of the band. As recruits do not generally travel with their instruments, Cape May has an inventory of instruments that would be heard in a concert band for recruits to utilize.
Although their skills do not have to be high level, recruits in the band must have a decent foundation of their chosen instrument. If they are able to play a simple scale or the National Anthem, they will likely be hired!
One interesting piece about the band make-up is that it is never the same, week to week. It is literally a different band each week as members graduate and members join. The hired non-rates fulfilling duties as section leaders, are the foundation of the band. Like MUC Burke, non-rates are selected from the band to fulfill duties as section leaders upon graduation from boot camp.
These non-rates learn all aspects of the Band, Color Guard Team, and Drill Team, become proficient with the recruit training schedule and procedures, and essentially become instructors. They also fill in gaps where needed within the band. MUC Burke explained that Section Leaders have no obligated service, as they can fulfill the role for two months or two years—it depends upon their “A” School choice/availability.
The number of members varies in the band, depending upon talent and interest of recruits. MUC pointed out that diversity of the band is more important than the numbers, and with his Section Leaders filling in as needed, he doesn’t worry about the numbers. He has had as many as 40-50 recruits but usually the number is between 15-20. Sometimes, MUC Burke must jump into the band and play and then his Section Leaders fill in to conduct. Like him, they all learn to conduct on the job and through self-training and working with local band directors.
What’s In It for Me?
Although there is no special recognition upon graduation for recruits in the band, they do enjoy some special privileges and recognition throughout their time at Cape May. While most recruits are performing Incentive Training (IT) from 0600-0700 every morning, band members have the luxury of practicing during this time, and they are rewarded by performing in front of the command and potentially 1000s of patrons throughout their time in Cape May.
For example, during the 2021 Christmas Parade in Cape May, the band performed for about 8,500 spectators and received a great deal of positive recognition from the command.
In addition to on-base events (graduation, special events), the Ceremonial Section also supports off-base events as the face of the Coast Guard. These events range from funerals to parades to holiday and memorial events (9/11, Veterans Day, Memorial Day), and Firing Parties (21-gun salute).
While the band consists of a mixture of recruits from all companies at Cape May, the Color Guard Team and the Drill Team consist of only recruits from each company. These recruits perform for their own company’s graduation but can also be chosen to perform off-base duties. Each company chooses six to eight recruits for the Drill Team to create and execute its own routine for graduation.
Company commanders ask if anyone in the company has prior experience with ROTC/JROTC/Drill Team or sports with high hand/eye coordination, or simply who is interested in spinning rifles. Company Commanders choose eight to 10 candidates and hold a first practice; from there they may dismiss a couple candidates to form their six to eight recruit team. To participate in the Color Guard Team, recruits do not need prior experience; instead, they simply need confidence in their abilities, as well as in wearing the uniform.
For more information concerning the Cape May Ceremonial Section, please visit TRACEN Cape May’s Facebook Page.
-Lt. Laura Garofalo, USCG