The performance of a lifetime

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steve Stanley
  • Headquarters Air Combat Command Public Affairs
Full Spectrum, the newest ensemble of the Heritage of America Band, performed "America the Beautiful" at the Preakness Stakes May 16, in Baltimore, Maryland. One member in particular was chosen to perform the historic "Call to the Post."

The event, which was nationally televised, broke records in attendance by hosting more than 170,000 people. 

At 5:00 a.m., the members of the band began their trip from Langley AFB, Virginia to Baltimore to set up and practice for their appearance. 

While driving the 15 passenger van to the Pimlico race course, Senior Airman Mark Oates, trumpet player for the band, shared his enthusiasm: "I am honestly more pumped up and nervous about this one show than any other of my career in the band."

His eagerness was driven by the unique opportunity to perform the traditional "Call to the Post," a position customarily held by an official bugler for the races. In horse racing, the musical piece is a signal that all mounts should proceed to the track. It is sounded by a bugler five to 10 minutes before the scheduled start time of the race.

After arriving, Oates was introduced to a person of celebrity status in the horse racing world, Sam Grossman, the official bugler of the New York Racing Association who is better known as "Sam the Bugler."

"Wow, this is amazing," Oates said. "This guy is kind of a mascot for horse racing."

After a brief conversation, Sam offered Oates the chance to practice with him and the rest of the Preakness Buglers in the horse jockey lounge room - an area not available to the public without special access. 

Sam received word a few weeks earlier that the Air Force was going to send musicians. When asked if there was a chance for a trumpet player to join them, his immediate response was "Sure! We would be honored to play with them, send them over!"

"I would feel proud to play along with any member of the military and especially if they are a good player, so yes, today makes me feel proud," Sam said. "We are delighted to have them play here with us on our special day."

During a conversation between their practice sessions, Sam suggested the idea that Oates play "America the Beautiful" alongside him and the other Preakness Stakes Buglers, Bethann Dixon and Ryan Resky.

"He seems like a fine trumpet player to me and unflappable too," Sam touted. "All of the sudden here he is with three people dressed like Johnnie Walker with the jocks from Preakness and he played the piece like it was nothing."

Following the special performance, Oates had this to say: "I think it came off really well and it was a nice addition to what they were already doing. They already have a great program, but they had an arrangement that worked great for me to step into."

Upon the end of the performance, the buglers shook hands, exchanged business cards and said their goodbyes. As his experience came to an end, Oates had a chance to take a step back and reflect.

"Today is a special and exciting day," Oates said. "I think it was really wonderful for us to be here on Armed Forces Day. It was great to be able to represent to the thousands of people here and watching today and bring a little special serving of our Air Force to them."

As the final race of the Preakness Stakes commenced, Oates and the rest of Full Spectrum prepared for their return to Langley AFB with a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of pride.

In his final statement, Oates exclaimed, "It's great to show that we appreciate all of [the audience] support and also let them know that we are here and serving."