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Making music with the military: Meyer set to become first female commander of 147th Army Band

Nebraska native to take command of Mitchell-based band later this year


June 10, 2022 04:23 PM


MITCHELL — As her college graduation approached, Kimberly Meyer wasn’t even aware there was such a thing as the 147th Army Band.


Now, years later and after dozens of practices and performances, she is set to become the first female commander of the unit later this year after her recent promotion to Warrant Officer 1 at a ceremony at Fort McClellan, Alabama in April.


“Not a chance,” Meyer, 34, told the Mitchell Republic when asked if she had always had her sights set on becoming the leader of the 147th Army Band of the South Dakota National Guard when she first enlisted in 2011. “It was one of those things that took a lot of time and consideration. But I’m the type of person who embraces challenges.”


Musical memories


While some musicians dream of performing on the big stage in front of sold-out audiences around the world, Meyer has spent much of music career as part of the Mitchell-based band unit, where she has filled a number of different roles on stage, including playing in the unit concert band and singing lead vocals in the group’s country music-focused offshoot group.



Kimberly Meyer, a member of the 147th Army Band out of Mitchell, performs at a Memorial Day service May 30, 2022 in Neligh, Nebraska. Jenny Higgins / Antelope County (Nebraska) News


It’s a role that has taken her around the country and around the world. But her career in music got started in small-town Nebraska, where she became fascinated with her older sister’s involvement in her school music programs.


“I was always singing along to the radio and remember being at my grandma’s house and her having a tape recorder with me singing Reba McEntire,” Meyer said. “My sister is 12 years older than me, and I think her being in band and listening to her playing clarinet and piano lessons inspired me to follow in her footsteps. I couldn’t wait to take piano lessons.”


The native of Royal, Nebraska — population of 63 — used her sister’s clarinet when she played in high school band, and was a part of multiple parts of her school’s music program, including choral and small group singing. Swing choir. Jazz band. She would sometimes accompany for her fellow students during music contest time.


So when it came time to move on to college, she really only had one idea of what she wanted to do.


“I didn’t know what else to do, so I took music to college as well,” Meyer said.

She ended up enrolling at the University of South Dakota as a clarinet performance major, where she remained until graduating in 2010. She enjoyed her time at USD and her study of playing the clarinet, but as is the case for some musicians, she wasn’t sure how to translate her degree into a steady career.


That’s when she happened to learn about the 147th Army Band.


An unexpected path


“I was getting into my senior year of college and I had this realization. What am I going to do with this degree in the Midwest?” Meyer said. “A lot of people don’t even realize there’s a band. I didn’t know that at the time until I met a couple of people at USD who were members of the (147th Army Band). One was a student and one was a professor and they both mentioned it to me.”


She admits she laughed off the idea of joining the National Guard to play music at first. But after about two years of needling, she decided to give an audition a try. She performed her audition on clarinet, and a short time later, she had enlisted and was going through basic training in South Carolina.


It was the right choice for her, as it guaranteed she would be able to continue her love of playing music regardless of what she needed to pursue as a career in civilian life. It also appealed to her desire to serve her country in some capacity.


Kimberly Meyer is set to become the first female commander of the 147th Army Band later this year. Submitted Photo


“It’s really fulfilling. Being able to serve your country and honor those who have served before you and who are currently serving,” Meyer said. “Music is such a powerful tool to touch people. We always say it bridges the gap between the military and civilian public. Music is such a powerful way to do that.”


Her time in the South Dakota Army National Guard has allowed her to do just that. Using their skills in music, members of the 147th Army Band perform at various ceremonies around the country and play a variety of different musical genres, ranging from classical concert pieces to rock, country and even hip hop.


And it has taken her to far-off places she likely would never have visited otherwise. The band has visited Suriname, where they played with their Surinamese counterparts and even performed at the United States Embassy for the newly-appointed ambassador. They play regularly around South Dakota for inaugural balls and school tours.


Performances are a chance to honor fellow veterans and patriotic events, but it’s also a chance to perform goodwill outreach and make a connection between civilians and military members, she said. It’s also a good chance to introduce the opportunities joining the National Guard can provide.


“I got in when there wasn’t even a bonus to enlist, and now kids are able to enlist for a pretty substantial paycheck and get their college paid for. Medical benefits and retirement, those are things you don’t even think about when you’re young,” Meyer said.


Taking Command


Her transition to the top leadership role in the unit is expected to occur at a change of command ceremony in October. There, she will step in for retiring Chief Warrant Officer 5 Terry Beckler, who has been a member of the band since 1986 and its commander since 1998.


Beckler, who works as a percussion professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen and who was the one who visited Meyer on USD’s campus for her clarinet audition years ago, said Meyer will bring a fresh perspective to the unit, which has embraced a more contemporary approach to their performances over the last decade.


Kimberly Meyer was promoted to Warrant Officer 1 in April. Her parents, Everett and Linda Meyer, of Royal, Nebraska, took part in her pinning ceremony. Submitted Photo


“I think it’s great,” Beckler said of Meyer’s promotion and future command. “She’s got a lot of fantastic ideas and she’s a performer in small groups of all different kinds. About 10 years ago we switched from the standard concert band format to a more of a small group format, and she’s a good fit for the person to take over. I’ve been the commander for 24 years, it’s time for some new ideas.”


Tim Storly, the readiness non-commissioned officer for the 147th Army Band, said it's exciting that Meyer will be the first female commander of the band in its long history. As a highly-skilled and dedicated musician and National Guard member, she will bring strong leadership to the unit.


“A different perspective is exciting, and she has some good ideas. She was selected because she’s a very serious soldier, she takes her training seriously and is one of the best musicians that we have,” Storly said. “It’s definitely important to recognize that (she will be the first female commander of the unit), but she wasn’t selected because she’s female. She's more than qualified. But it’s good to see that she will be the first female band commander. I think that's great.”


The unit also welcomed its inaugural female first sergeant in Kristen Soukup just a few years ago, Meyer said.


A changing role

Meyer's position will demand more of her attention, and will likely take away from her performance time with the band. But she said she is ready to make that trade off. After all, she still gets to teach her beloved piano lessons to her students in Nebraska, and she always has the option to record her own new solo music, which can be found on streaming services under her name and through her website, www.kimberlymeyermusic.com.


And she’s happy to share her love of music and the National Guard with anyone who will listen. For those who are interested, joining the National Guard, and specifically the 147th Army Band, may be just as great a choice for them as it was for her.

Kimberly Meyer, second from the left, is set to become the first female commander of the 147th Army Band later this year. Here she is pictured with members of one of her performing groups during a performance in summer of 2021 at the Corn Palace Plaza. From left to right are SSG Rick Larson, Meyer, SPC April Loftus and SSG Mandie Wittmeier. Submitted Photo


If you love music and want to serve your country, the 147th Army Band is hard to beat, she said. The group will be playing in the region on June 30 as part of Parkston's veterans celebration in conjunction with the town's Vietnam Memorial Wall visit.


“I can’t say enough good things about the group and the people we have in this unit and how welcoming everyone is. That is honestly what sold me on the notion of joining – that we’re always welcoming new recruits just to stop by and check us out,” Meyer said. “Just get a feel for the music and the camaraderie and what you can contribute to whatever group fits you best. That’s what sold me on it, just sitting down with the soldiers and just playing.”


The 147th Army Band has about 40 members from South Dakota and other surrounding states and marked its official 100th anniversary in Mitchell in 2021.



Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.


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