As the summer months were approaching, cold still lingered in the small towns of northern New Zealand. Members of the local community took refuge from the weather inside a civic center to be entertained by the performance of a military band. The audience was noticeably captivated by what they were hearing. The drummer’s beats echoed around the room, setting the mood for musicians’ individual solos. One musician was feeling the beat and prepared to show the audience his skill.
Thousands of miles from his hometown in Polk County, North Carolina, he stood in his Dress Blue Delta uniform, 64-inches tall, no heavier than 140 pounds, blowing his trumpet high and loud, so entwined in his performance, with a style most trumpet players dream to achieve.
Cpl. Paul A. Tafoya, 21, travels to countries all over the Pacific as a trumpet player for the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band, but when he enlisted into the Marine Corps, it wasn’t to be musician.
After graduating from Polk County High School in 2008, Tafoya said he enlisted to become a warrior. He wanted to play a role in the war on terror and deploy to Afghanistan.
He enlisted as an open contract with the hopes he would land a specialty that would give him the opportunity for a deployment.
It was at the end of Marine combat training that the instructors read the military occupational specialty number “2171.” Tafoya had to ask what the numbers meant.
Soon after, he was on his way to an Army school in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, to learn the job of an electro-optical ground ordnance repairer and technician.
In September 2009, he received his orders to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, and started working for the 3rd Marine Regimental armory.
“When we worked together, he used to tell me he played a lot of instruments,” said Lance Cpl. Loyd L. Carter, an optics tech who worked and deployed with Tafoya. “He always seemed like he really loved music. He would play a lot of jazz music in (our barracks) room.”
Finally, in February 2010, he received his opportunity to deploy with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment to Afghanistan.
“He was more excited (in Afghanistan) because it’s obviously different than (being at base),” Carter said. “When we first got to Afghanistan, he wasn’t doing his job being an optics tech. He was in the guard force for about three or four months and he liked that a lot more than doing our MOS. They had him as a designated marksman (in a rifle platoon).”
At the start of September during his deployment, Tafoya finished working with the rifle platoon and went back to working at the armory.
“All I did there was go out on convoys to the different positions that we had in the battalion and check people’s optics to make sure they were working right,” Tafoya said.
After the deployment, Tafoya returned to his job at the regimental armory at K-Bay. After finding out he wouldn’t be able to deploy again, Tafoya began considering a move to the MarForPac Band.
“Since the sixth grade, I played the trumpet,” Tafoya said. “Then I decided that I was going to put it away for a little bit and come back to it after I was done with the Marine Corps, but we got a bunch of new optics techs from the school. They want to deploy every Marine they can. I wasn’t going to get the chance to go back [to Afghanistan] with (3rd Battalion).”
He was at a MarForPac band performance when he decided to ask one of the band members how to try out for the band.
He began practicing after work at the band hall in January 2011 and tried out for the band soon after. He was given temporary additional duty orders to the band and immediately impressed many of the band’s staff. He was expected to be able to learn music and play pieces from all different styles.
“He was the awesome new guy that could play his trumpet really well, better than most of the trumpet players in the band,” said Staff Sgt. Andres R. Trujillo, Tafoya’s jazz combination and show band leader. “Party band is all memorized music. You can’t go out there with a music stand and read the music. You have to internalize it so well that you can interact with the crowd and you can dance, move around and improvise really well.”
“To have someone transfer from another MOS and to be able to play that great is very unique,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Torres, one of the band’s staff noncommissioned officers for training. “You see him inside the practice room pretty much every night. It’s impressive.”
Since Tafoya has been with the band, he has been a trumpet player for shows all over the Pacific. He’s traveled to Cambodia, Samoa, Vietnam, Tonga and New Zealand. He was also nominated by his unit to be the Marine Musician of the Year.
Tafoya is satisfied with the accomplishments of his current enlistment. He plans to get out of the Marine Corps after his contract ends and aspires to continue playing music. His goal is to eventually teach the skill to high school students.
“If I could teach a kid to play really well I would die happy,” Tafoya said.