JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. –
Sgt. 1st Class Roger Kirchner of the 135th Army Band explains that family is deeply rooted within the Missouri National Guard's Army Band. “There's no other band in the state if you want to play music and become a member of the National Guard," stated Roger. "Everybody stays in the unit for basically their whole career. So, you have those guys as your family as well. You're just as much family when you’re in a van for thousands of miles, for hundreds of missions, with the same five to six people.”
While band members travel many days and hours together and develop relationships like a family, that isn’t where such a dynamic ends for Roger.
His father, Keith Kirchner, taught Roger how to play music. Keith served in the Missouri National Guard in both the 135th Army Band and the Air National Guard Band in St. Louis, which has since decommissioned.
Keith Kirchner worked his way up to the rank of sergeant and was honorably discharged. He was also the band director at Van Buren Elementary School, and his son Roger was one of his students.
"My dad talked about the Guard Band, and that's how I got interested in it," said Roger. "He was like, 'Do you want to come down for a drill?' So I just went down for a drill and played with the band. The audition process was different; you sat in with the different bands while they played, performed with them, and they evaluated how you played with the group. Then, they either offered you a position or didn't, so basically, through family connections with dad being in the band, it kind of went from there."
Throughout Roger's life, his father's love for music has contributed significantly to his life choices. With many past shared musical experiences and more to come.
"Growing up, my dad was the director," said Roger. "You have those different times that you know he's your teacher and your dad, and you're playing music that way. That mentorship continued with a parent-child-teacher dynamic throughout my entire musical career. You know, that was a good experience. It's one of those experiences that you think, "Yeah, Dad, that's great." But then whenever you're older, it's like, "Well, that was cool!"
The roots and musical mentorship grew over the years, and in 2002 Roger's wife, Carla, joined the 135th Army Band’s Brass Band. She is now Staff Sgt. Carla Kirchner.
"Last year was our 20th wedding anniversary," said Roger. "We were hiking up a glacier in Iceland, and the guide asked, 'How do you stay together for 20 years?' I think it’s communicating and looking at the other person’s needs before your own. If you do that, and both people are doing that, it can be successful."
The Kirchner family has spent its life serving the community through music and other artistic pursuits. This creative focus has continued with Roger and Carla's son, Royal, who is considering trying out for the 135th Army Band next summer.
“We enjoy doing different creative things and finding outlets,” said Roger. “Our energy in the creative aspect is what we like to do as a family.”
Roger has spent a career in the Army Band and he headed off to his retirement in the best way he could, with a concert.
Sept. 22, 2022, served as a pinnacle for the Kirchner family as they filled seats in the band "Fire for Effect.” The incredible journey came full circle in the town of Van Buren, Mo., where Roger's journey as a musician started. Fittingly, his final concert with the 135th Army Band was at Van Buren High School alongside his father and son. The last song of the set they all performed together was "All the Small Things” by Blink 182. Keith, the patriarch, played the keyboards, while third-generation member Royal jammed with the bass guitar. Roger had the lead with the electric guitar and vocals.
“It’s a great song to have as your last song because of the high energy,” said Roger. “It was impactful and surreal to play and perform with my son and dad in the place where I started and with the people I played with in the band back in the day. Having those folks there was great.”
Roger emphasized the poignancy of the lyrics: "Say it ain't so, I will not go, Turn the lights off, Carry me home. Carry me home."
It's as if the song refers to Roger saying that the show is finally over. "I will not go” means that he isn't going anywhere. "They will always be a part of me, and I will always be a part of them," Roger explained about the 135th Army Band members.
The concert's end also began a new chapter for the 135th Army Band.
"I left the stage and turned it over to them," said Roger. "Personally, for me, it was an impactful moment. The fact that everybody was so energetic and engaged made it so exciting. When you get crowd involvement like that, it makes it much more interesting."
The roles and path the Kirchner family have taken within the 135th Army Band have been memorable and influential in many ways. Music and public service take on different meanings for their family. The family members have performed for many Missourians and Americans together over the years, bringing joy during lighthearted events and clarity during times of honor and reflection.
As for Roger's retirement, he has many musical endeavors lined up to keep him busy.