AL HILLAH, Iraq -- On the grounds of a palace formerly belonging to overthrown dictator Saddam Hussein, next to the historic Babylon ruins, music rang out celebrating freedom and the U.S. military.
The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, which has been in Kuwait since Feb. 10, made history on Sunday by being the first Marine band to play in the newly liberated Iraq, said Col. Jerry Yingling Jr., 3rd MAW chief of staff.
The hour-long concert for troops featured patriotic songs, traditional New Orleans style music, the playing of all five military services' songs and a song dedicated to Saddam Hussein titled "It's All Over Now."
The significance of the Marine band playing on Saddam's former palace grounds was not lost on the concertgoers.
"This used to be (Saddam's) soil and now we're on it expressing freedom," said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Miners, 3rd MAW commanding general's enlisted aide and Janesville, Calif. Native.
During a speech at the concert Lt. Gen. James T. Conaway, commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force said, "You sat at an amphitheater at one of Saddam's palaces, on the banks of the Euphrates and listened to a Marine band. One of the first songs they played was 'Let Freedom Ring.' There is something not so ironic about that."
From a banjo player to a washboard player, the 3rd MAW Dixieland Band, a small section of the regular band, also entertained the crowd. Playing traditional New Orleans style music, the Dixieland Band stood up front and got the crowd involved.
"They're a bunch of hams," said Master Gunnery Sgt. Gregory Simons, bandmaster of the 3rd MAW Band and a native of Kasson, Minn.
At the end of the concert the band honored all of the military services by playing each service's song.
During the playing of the Marine Corps Hymn five military service members re-enacted the raising of the American flag during World War II on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan.
The show, filled with patriotic music, was well received by the military members that attended.
"(It was) the best I've ever seen in my career. The song selections were a perfect fit for the event," said Miners.
The band does more than just provide entertainment for troops. For the past three months they have been working 12-hour days, 5-6 days a week as a security force for a base in Kuwait, said Cpl. Christopher Lynch, 3rd MAW Band tenor saxophone player, and native of Medicine Lodge, Kan.
"(The band members) are Marines first and bandsmen second. They have been doing the jobs of Marines for the past several months," said Conway.
This is the second concert the band has played since they have been in the Middle East and they plan to perform three more at various military installations in Kuwait.
The 3rd MAW Band has proved that bandsmen in the Marines have to rough it on deployments just like everyone else. "The old adage is that every Marine is a rifleman," said Simons. This is certainly true for the band that has been working as a security force for three months.