MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- When Staff Sgt. Joel Daniel, a native from Hermosa Beach, Calif., graduated high school from Redondo Union High School in 1988, he set down his tuba he had been playing since he was in eleventh grade, and joined the Army as an infantryman.
He spent three years in the Army as a machine gunner in 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division. He deployed to the Middle East in support of the Multi-National Force and Observers to keep peace between Egypt and Israel. By the time his contract expired, Daniel knew soldier-life wasn’t for him, he said.
He missed music.
Daniel decided to pursue a career doing something he loved. He enrolled into El Camino College in Torrence, Calif., and later transferred to Long Beach State University and received an associate’s degree in music.
But there was still something missing in his career.
From serving in the Army, Daniel experienced a brotherhood within his squad most people outside of the military don’t know.
"I wanted the espirit de corps you can only get from the Marine Corps," he explained. "Marines look out for each other."
In high school, Daniel was in the Marine Corps Reserves Officer Training Corps and had seen Marine Corps bands perform. It had left a mark on him that surfaced when he decided to enlist as a Marine in August 1995, he said.
"The Marine Corps is more of a lifestyle," said Daniel. "The Army was more of a job."
When Daniel had completed boot camp and training at the School of Music at the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Va., he found himself back at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego for three years.
In 1998, Daniel received the chance of a lifetime as the fourth Marine to be added to the Commander in Chief Allied Forces, Southern Europe band in Naples, Italy. The band performed for North Atlantic Treaty Organization ceremonies and other community relations performances all over Europe and the Mediterranean, he said.
"Living in Europe made me realize that America isn’t the center of the universe," said Daniel. "It broadened my scope to other ideas and lifestyles."
After four years in Italy, Daniel went back to the School of Music for six months for more training. He was then assigned to the 2nd Marine Division Band at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
A year after joining the band, Daniel and his fellow bandsmen were deployed to Ramadi, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The band served as the camp’s security force. Daniel was a platoon commander of more than 35 troops, he said.
Other Marines were not sure what to think as the band stepped on deck in Iraq, but soon found new meaning to "a Marine is a Marine."
"They were actually surprised to see how tight-knit we were as a unit," said Daniel. "They didn’t realize it takes teamwork and a lot of communication to perform music that flows to other areas of being a Marine."
Daniel had learned to play the bag pipes after being mesmerized by their sound at a Highlands games festival during his years in college. He strapped them onto his pack as he conducted security measures in Iraq, he said.
"Whenever there was a half an hour to kill, I would pull out my bag pipes and start playing," he said. "Marines would gather around and listen.
"Music has a way of taking you somewhere else, like a kind of therapy," he explained.
When Daniel returned from the deployment, he returned to the School of Music for 30 weeks to take an advance course in conducting, arranging, history and theory of music.
With this new training under his belt, Daniel arrived to the Combat Center Band in March.
"The band here is the best musically competent band I have ever experienced," he said. "This band is untouchable."
Even after all of Daniel’s adventures of big city living and European travels, he and his wife of ten years, Joni, were craving small-town living, he said.
"We love it here in Twentynine Palms," said Daniel. "We’re glad to finally be in a small, quiet community."
Daniel is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music, would like to be a band officer and eventually retire from the Marine Corps, he said.