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Trio of Guardsmen earn doctorate degrees

A trio of bandmates in the Washington Army National Guard’s 133rd Army Band can add “doctor” to their repertoire.

“The band has historically been one of the most educated career fields in the military behind the medical and (Judge Advocate General), and recently myself and two other members of the band recently completed a PhD and doctorate in musical studies,” said Chief Warrant Officer Three Scott Pierson, the band master. Pierson recently defended his dissertation, earning his doctorate of musical arts in wind studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sgt. 1st Class Steve Friel, an instructor of music at Eastern Washington University recently completed his doctorate of musical arts in saxophone performance from the University of North Texas. Staff Sgt. Joey Castilleja, the superintendent of the Mabton School District, finished his PhD in philosophy in education, specializing in training and performance improvement.

“This is such a great accomplishment, and I was so happy to have two of my battle buddies complete it at the same time,” said Pierson. “For me it was the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of work.”

The average doctorate degree takes anywhere from seven to nine years, depending on the degree field. Many universities won’t accept students unless they believe they have a master’s degree or have mastered a certain field. Each member took completely different paths to achieve their educational goals today.

For Pierson, he believes that his more than 25 years in the military and 13 years commanding the 133rd was critical to him mastering his craft.
“In the Air National Guard I got called all the time to play clarinet with the active duty band, and they paid for my professional lessons and ultimately they paid for my professional education,” said Pierson. “So when I switched to the Army National Guard they put me in a position to earn this amazing honor.”

Friel, who has performed professionally with Natalie Cole and Tony Bennett, believes that his more than 30 years in the military has given him every opportunity to be successful.

“I would say 100 percent of my success is credit to the National Guard,” Friel said. “Whether it just be the regular salary, the supplies they have given me or the educational benefits, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve anything, nothing, without the support of the National Guard.”

Castilleja was also a former member of the Air National Guard, and transferred over to the Army National Guard to continue playing music.

“I was talking to some college friends the other day, and they were talking about the odd jobs they had and I never did because I always had the Guard,” Castilleja said. “And what it gave me was steady work and the chance to play music professionally while going to Eastern. It kept me really focused, it kept me going.”

Pierson, Friel and Castilleja all agree that if not for the professional development and number of musical professionals around them it would be much harder.

“When I come to drill, I am excited, we have so many musical educators in the room and when we get together it is just a great professional development opportunity,” said Pierson.

Each also pushes their soldiers to use the education benefits provided to them through the National Guard.

“The days of the enlisted soldier who have just a high school diploma are long gone,” says Castilleja. “I tell my soldiers that even if you just do the initial enlistment and get out, if you aren’t leaving with at least an associates’ degree you are wrong.”

For the full audio story, please check out the entire interview on the Raven Conversations podcast.