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Soldier realizes dream of being musician
0404 Soldier musician
1st Sgt. Lester McKinney plays the keyboard Task Force March 14 during a Marne Jazz Combo concert at the Green Beans Coffee World Café at the Post Exchange shopping complex on Contingency Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq. - photo by Photo by Capt. Tim Mills
1st Sgt. Lester McKinney, a native of Sardis, Miss., is serving his second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq. McKinney is a euphonium player with the 3rd Infantry Division Band on Fort Stewart.
The musician, who is the son of Maggie L. McKinney of Sardis, Miss., graduated from Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Miss. with a bachelor’s of science. He also has a master’s in music from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. While McKinney is deployed, his wife In Sook and daughter Lisa live in Midway.
“I think of myself as a musician. I am a soldier and I am quite proud of it,” McKinney said. “I have been in for 24 short years, but I am a musician. Every time I get the opportunity to play, I love to do so.”
After completing basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., in February 1986, McKinney graduated from the U.S. Army Signal Center at Fort Gordon where he studied teletypewriter repair. After finishing his advanced individual training, McKinney began to think about fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a musician in the military. The soldier enrolled in the U.S. Army Element School of Music in Little Creek, Va., and trained as a euphonium player. He graduated in 1988.
During the past 24 years, McKinney served as a euphonium player, section leader and squad leader with the U.S. Army Signal Corps Band on Fort Gordon, the 2nd Infantry Division Band at Camp Casey, Korea, and the Eighth United States Army Band at Yongsan Garrison, Korea. He was the brass group leader and platoon sergeant with the U.S Infantry Center Band on Fort Benning and the 76th Army Band          (V Corps) at Coleman Barracks in Germany; first sergeant with the 76th Army Band (V Corps) in Iraq and Germany, the U.S. Infantry Center Band on Fort Benning and the 36th Army Band on Fort Huachuca, Ariz. McKinney became a first sergeant with the 3rd Infantry Division Band in June 2008, according to the 3rd ID Band Web site.
As a musician, McKinney entertains the armed forces through many different genres. As part of the Task Force Marne Jazz Combo, he played the keyboard March 14 at the Green Beans Coffee shop for soldiers at COB Speicher.
“When I was a young man, I had the illusion of grandeur to think that, even though I didn’t start playing the piano until I was a grown man, that I could possibly one day be a jazz piano player,” McKinney said. “This opportunity allows me to indulge in my youthful fantasies.”

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