Finding harmony in community and service

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Diana Ferree
  • 911th Airlift Wing

Friday night lights bring different memories to different people. Some may have been cheering from the stands, charging down a football field, or playing music from the band section to pump up the crowd. For many, those memories stayed in the past, but for recently promoted Staff Sgt. Garrett Gumbarevic, an avionics specialist assigned to the 911th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, it’s become a full-circle moment.

As a child, Gumbarevic was a band member from fourth grade through his senior year of high school. Although he enjoyed band, he didn’t have plans of teaching music like some of his classmates. Instead, he sought out service through the Air Force Reserve.

Shortly after completing basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Gumbaveric received a call from his old band director, Doug Mason.
“He said he needed some help for the summer and that was it,” explained Gumbarevic. “And then it turned into [becoming] one of the main instructors for them.”

As an instructor for Waynesburg Central Junior Senior High Band, Gumbarevic teaches students how to play music and march.

For Gumbarevic, it's watching his students transform over a summer and perform with precision. That’s what keeps him coming back to teach.

“The most rewarding thing ever was hearing the crowd of the parents, the away-team’s parents, the fans and the teams and everything for the first time ever, like, really cheer for these kids.

Gumbarevic continued, “I also have parents come up to me and say, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ And I tell these parents, ‘No, it’s your kids doing a great job. They’re putting in the work, they’re the ones doing all the hard work.’”

In order to balance working with the school and his full-time job with the 911th AMXS, Gumbarevic had to maintain solid communication with both his military leadership and band director. That meant letting his supervisors know band camp was starting up soon and he would need to take leave. Or letting the band director know what time he would get there for an afternoon practice after leaving the base from a full day of work.

“It’s important to accommodate the best we can to allow people to fulfill their lives,” said Master Sgt. Benjamin Sardon, communications and navigation systems section supervisor, 911th AMXS. “The band program does just that for Gumbarevic.“

An added benefit to a reservist’s lifestyle is the opportunity for Airmen to serve near their chosen community or hometown.

“[Those] couple of weeks out of the year, where the whole group is teaching music, it’s so relieving, it’s great,” said Gumbarevic.

This summer was the first time the Waynesburg Central High School integrated their junior and senior high school’s bands.

“When we had just nine through 12, they already knew – we're gonna be on the field, we're gonna be learning how to march, we're gonna learn a new routine,” said Gumbarevic. “So teaching [the seventh and eighth graders] how to go from the elementary-school style of playing to high school ... it's gonna be a little harder,” he said.

One of the fundamentals the younger kids have to learn is marching. Gumbarevic first experienced marching on the same field he now teaches on and was able to hone those skills during his time in Air Force BMT.

Along with marching, Gumbarevic brought back the ability to build a team. Living a military lifestyle requires Airmen to adapt to their surroundings and oftentimes that includes learning how to work with new people from all around the nation. All of whom have different skill sets and experience levels. Gumbarevic used this same logic when integrating the junior-high students to the more experienced high schoolers.

He explained that they all had different levels of musical experience and of course, different personalities. In order to create a team, that meant working together through the fundamentals – starting with marching.

“From zero, we’re making it and building a team, instead of it just being an individual thing,” said Gumbarevic.

Aside from teaching students music and marching, Gumbarevic is happy to make space for mentorship outside of music.

“These kids who have just a couple friends, or no good friends at all, now they’re friends with the big seniors and big juniors. And they’re like, ‘now I have a place,’” said Gumbarevic. “I was worried going in [this summer], but getting those young kids to be almost best friends with these high-school kids is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Gumbarevic experienced the same kind of kinship during his time in high-school band. During a conversation with an old band mate, they talked about the joy and seemingly familial bond that band brought to their young lives and how it's come full circle working alongside the very teachers that taught him. Now providing a space for the next generation to form new friendships and foster a love of music.