Face of Defense: Australia Native Comes Full Circle as Army Guard Vocalist
ARLINGTON, Va. --
For Army Sgt. Vicki Golding, a vocalist with the District of Columbia Army National Guard's 257th Army Band, performing during the “Centenary of Mateship” celebration event at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall here June 27 was, in a way, about coming full circle.
The celebration marked the 100-year alliance between the United States and Australia, and was a fitting place for Golding, a native of Brisbane, Australia, who now lives in the U.S.
"In terms of representing both countries, this event felt like it was ready-made for me," said Golding, who was approached by Australian Embassy officials to perform at the event once they learned she was vocalist in the D.C. Army National Guard. "It wasn't lost on me on what a big deal this was for a girl from Brisbane -- ending up here in D.C. with the best military band in the country."
Her journey from "Down Under" to singing in the 257th Army Band started as a child. Growing up, she was part of a musical family act with her three sisters and brother. The group was led by her father, who Golding described as the "essential music man."
"My father was a music teacher and an opera singer and was a very technical musician," she said. "He was just the sort of person [who] would make you want to do better."
While the music bug subsided for her siblings, Golding said her love of performing continued. Following the footsteps of a high school friend, she enlisted in the Australian Army as a musician, eventually landing a position as a vocalist.
When the United States Army Band "Pershing's Own" performed during an international tattoo in Brisbane, Golding said she was captivated by the variety of music they played.
"They had a rock band and a rhythm section along with the trombone section," she said, adding she felt she was witnessing the "sheer talent of a premier band."
Years later, marriage to an American brought her to the Washington, D.C., area. Though she had left the Australian Army, Golding said she was still interested in serving and performing. That lead her to reach out to soldiers she knew from "Pershing's Own," who suggested the 257th Army Band as their performance schedule would be a better fit for her life.
Singing For a New Nation
She followed the suggestion and enlisted in 2003, but she wouldn't be serving in a singing capacity. The 257th Army Band didn't have a singer vacancy, so Golding was confined to the percussion section and also played the tuba, two instruments that she had previous experience playing.
Yet vocal performing remained her goal.
"When I first joined the 257th, I had videos and demos of me singing, and I said 'Look, I can play tuba, I can play percussion, but I really want to sing for you guys,'" Golding said.
Eventually, a vocalist position opened up, and she wasted no time in securing her new role.
Now, Golding performs more than 35 shows a year, representing the D.C. Army Guard and the Army as a vocalist.
She said she thrives off the excitement of large-scale shows, especially in stadiums when she sings "The Star-Spangled Banner."
"It's a sacred piece that never gets old because there's this energy that comes from the audience," said Golding. "You can feel the audience just waiting for you to sing it to them."
But it was a military funeral for a D.C. National Guard member lost in battle that she will never forget.
"I was singing the national anthem," Golding said. "Maybe 10 feet away was his family, and I remember struggling."
Years of performing in uniform, however, provided the focus needed to sing the song through.
"They had just lost their family member," she said. "If I can't suck it up for 90 seconds, be professional and do my job when they lost just about everything -- that's just not acceptable to me."
Golding brings that same kind of discipline and love of music to the civilian side, volunteering at non-profit organizations that cater to military spouses and veterans who use musical therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I have been blessed with musical abilities, and anytime I feel I am not using them, I feel like I am wasting something that was given to me," she said. "And so I want to share what I have been given, whether it's performing, teaching or writing musical arrangements -- whatever that might be."
Golding added her civilian experiences working with non-profit organizations, plus keeping abreast of popular music trends, help broaden her horizons as a military vocalist.
"It's not a bad thing to think outside of the box," she said. "Because if things aren't flexible, they'll break sometimes."
While Golding said the pinnacle of her musical ambition is performing on a network show back in her native country, she said she is still thrilled with being a singing soldier and sharing the same kind of camaraderie in the D.C. Army National Guard she felt in Australia.
"The common thread between the two militaries is the sense of family," she said. "It was a real lifeline for me in Australia, and the same is true here in America."