TSC sergeant major’s music career strikes perfect tone

by Staff Sgt. Warren W. Wright Jr.
21st Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs
Photo by Brandon BeachSgt. Maj. Shawn M. Firch, 21st Theater Sustainment Command secretary general staff sergeant major, teaches Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney J. Rhoades, 21st TSC senior enlisted leader, how to play the guitar during some down time Feb. 22 on Panzer Kaserne.
Photo by Brandon Beach
Sgt. Maj. Shawn M. Firch, 21st Theater Sustainment Command secretary general staff sergeant major, teaches Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney J. Rhoades, 21st TSC senior enlisted leader, how to play the guitar during some down time Feb. 22 on Panzer Kaserne.

When most people think of jobs in the Army, they don’t realize the multitude of opportunities available to recruits looking to join. One 21st Theater Sustainment Command sergeant major, however, found instant harmony when he enlisted into the Army nearly 28 years ago.

Sgt. Maj. Shawn M. Firch, outgoing 21st TSC secretary general staff sergeant major and incoming command sergeant major of the Army School of Music in Norfolk, Virginia, has had an enormous passion for music most of his life. When it came time for his brother to join the Army, the idea struck a sour note until he learned of a surprising opportunity right on key.

“The recruiter was at my house trying to recruit my brother, which he eventually did, and when I walked in from band practice the recruiter asked if I was interested in joining the Army,” Firch said. “I said heck no, I have no desire to go into the military whatsoever.”

Upon seeing Firch with his trumpet in hand, the recruiter responded with the perfect pitch, mentioning the Army has bands. “Oh, really?” the trumpeter replied.

“I then sat down with him, received all of the information, and the next thing I knew I was on my way to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, to take an audition,” Firch said. “I actually joined the Army and shipped off to basic training before my brother.”

Firch, a native of Germantown, Ohio, first became interested in playing music in fifth grade when a band came to his school and played for the students in an effort to get people involved with the band.

“I remember very vividly sitting on the bus and the band was going out to the football field for practice and I saw someone with a trumpet,” Firch said. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, that’s cool. It’s only got three buttons so how hard can it be? I want to play that.’ And that’s where it started.”

For Firch, being an Army musician and a musician in general is much more than just a job.

“My favorite part about being a musician has been sharing my musical performance with other people for their enjoyment,” Firch said. “As I always tell people, music is a part of everybody’s life.”

Music has even played an instrumental role in shaping Firch’s private life. While stationed in Bamberg, Firch was performing in a ceremony in Wiesbaden — something he’s done many times before. However, this gig was different — this time, he would meet the woman who would become his wife.

“I was out visiting with a cousin when we met,” said Veronika Firch, Firch’s wife. “We decided to go out and we just connected.”

They have been married for 15 years, and music has become just as much a part of Veronika’s life as it has been for her husband.

“We often go to many different concerts,” Veronika said. “I definitely encourage him. I like to sit and listen to the different songs he’s learning to play on the guitar and I definitely try to support him as much as I can.”

Even when Veronika was accepting her U.S. citizenship, Firch and his musical passion were involved.

“There were a lot of people there becoming U.S. citizens and he was there playing for us and it was amazing,” Veronika said. “He wasn’t actually playing, but conducting the band. He stopped the whole band just so he could talk to me and congratulate me.”

Firch’s support to those he cares about extends well outside of his immediate family and definitely includes his Army band of brothers.
One noncommissioned officer, Sgt. 1st Class Bill Hobson, a logistics and resources manager with the U.S. Army Europe Band and Chorus, served with Firch while on deployment to Iraq in 2006. He recalled how Firch was a no-nonsense kind of guy who did what he needed to do — take care of his fellow Soldiers.

“When we went to Iraq, the division tasked us with a lot of stuff other than music to do and rather than fold and let the band handle the task,” Hobson said. “He battled it out and was able to figure out a way to split the band in order to make sure that both music and duty were covered so that everyone could continue their professional development, be able to practice, be able to perform and raise the morale of the troops. It was very important to him that we were able to do our actual job and bring morale to the troops that were going out to the fight.”

Hobson said Firch not only provided support to his Soldiers on duty, but his leadership struck a note in his Soldiers’ personal lives as well.

One example was when Firch took the time to go see Hobson perform.

“My rock band played downrange and (Firch) made it a point to come out and watch,” Hobson said. “When I saw him digging it, it really made my day.”

As a senior enlisted leader, Firch does not get the opportunity to play in Army bands anymore, however, that does not keep him from continuing with his passion for music.

“My primary instrument has been the trumpet for pretty much my whole life,” Firch said. “Now, I don’t play the trumpet very often at all.”

But another instrument struck a chord with the sergeant major.

“About two years ago, I got passionate about learning the guitar,” Firch said. “So I went with a friend who’s a retired musician in the Army band, and we sat down in (a guitar store) in Washington state, hooked up a guitar and from then on I’ve had the guitar fever.”

Firch practices playing the guitar almost every night at home, and on certain occasions has even brought his guitar into work to help teach others how to play.

Firch said he eagerly looks forward to his new gig.

“I’m very excited about the assignment,” Firch said. “I will get the opportunity to lead at more of a level that has a strategic impact on the Army band field and how it supports the overall mission of the Army.”

For Army band members, there are only eight sergeants major throughout the entire Army, and of those eight, only one is nominated to be the command sergeant major of the Army School of Music.

“He’s an excellent choice for (command sergeant major) of the Army School of Music,” said Sgt. Maj. Pedro  Quiñones, the USAREUR Band and Chorus
sergeant major. “I competed for that board as well and when his name came up I was covered with mixed emotions. I was sad that I didn’t get selected, but happy that Firch was. It is definitely right on point that he was selected for that position.”

“He’s an awesome leader and I think he’s going to bring a new perspective to the school of music and I think he’s definitely up for the challenge,” Hobson added.

Firch’s appointment as the command sergeant major of the Army School of Music will go a long way in helping him reinforce his conviction that the Army music program is a valuable component to the Army family.

“I’m really passionate about the Army music program and how we contribute to the overall mission of the Army,” Firch said. “It’s a passion of mine to ensure that Army music stays relevant, ready and utilized by other organizations.”