Air Force Reserve brass wears stripes

  • Published
  • By Paul Zadach
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It was 14 degrees below zero in Minnesota on Dec. 27.  Lakes are frozen solid, the ground is like concrete and exposed flesh freezes in seconds.  Tech. Sgt. Johnny Holliday puts on his Air Force uniform donning his beret that signifies his membership in the Security Forces Squadron at the 934th Airlift Wing in Minneapolis.  Holliday is on a unique mission tonight.  He's been selected to play the national anthem at the Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants NFL game at the TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

In the span of the two minutes it takes to perform the anthem, Holliday puts it all out there.  All at once it's an emotional display of love for his country, a passion for his Air Force job and his mastery of the trumpet he plays.  As he hits the final screaming crescendo, the stadium lights reflect off of his custom made Marcinkiewicz Excaliber trumpet and 50,000 people come alive to join him in a celebration of the moment.  He's no longer aware of the cold.

Talking with Holliday is a lesson in enthusiasm.  This accomplished jazz performer who also sings and plays saxophone has an energy and excitement in his voice as he talks about his music.  It's contagious and it doesn't stop with at the topic of music.  The 46 year old Airman is just as passionate about his job as a security forces Airman in the Air Force Reserve.  In fact, it's hard to discern which one he enjoys more.  At one time the two intersected as he is a former member of the acclaimed Air Force "Tops in Blue" musical touring group.  But today besides serving as a full time member of the 934th Security Forces Squadron, he has become a frequent and much requested performer around the Twin Cities and nationwide.

Holliday comes from a musical family as his father was one of the pioneers of Tex-Mex music and his uncle played with the band Sonny and the Sunliners.  His uncle later went on to become a recording engineer with Sony and Warner Bros. in San Antonio.  Holliday first picked up the trumpet when he was in fourth grade after hearing his older brother Albert play.  "When I first tried it I said, wow, mine doesn't sound like my brother's so I decided I better start practicing," he said.  His brother also went on to serve as a combat medic.  Holliday continued to play through his high school and junior college bands and also studied musical performance on both trumpet and saxophone with private instructors.

While performing around the country both solo and with Christian ministries, thoughts of serving his country were never far from his mind.  He had been looking at attending Air Force parachute-rescue school when he became acquainted with a now retired command chief named Martin Klukas.  "Chief Klukas really became a mentor for me in steering me towards the Air Force where he said there would be more opportunities to pursue my music while serving in the military.  And he was right," Holliday said.  He still keeps in touch with Klukas today, and he played at his retirement ceremony.

Among his many memorable experiences of playing for deployed troops, at national sporting events and jazz festivals, Holliday says that one of the experiences that really stands out for him is when he toured with the Tops in Blue in their 1992 tour called "For the Record."  "Playing with Tops in Blue was where you learn what separates the men from the boys," he said.  "I probably learned more about how to take care of myself as a musician, combined with my security forces background, than I did with any group of people."  But what really stand out for him now is when he goes to play for the veterans groups.  "Anybody can play in front of thousands of people, that's nothing, it's not that hard," he said.  "I like the intimate scenes, with the vets, the way they look at you, I'll play a song like 'In the Mood' and you can see them reminiscing, you can see it in their eyes that it is taking them back, and that really has an effect on me.  It's almost like I'm going back into time with them."

With a wife, three sons and a daughter, it's always a challenge to keep things balanced, a challenge for anyone in the Reserve.  "Touring with musical groups and military deployments are definitely tough on the family, my family is very supportive and we have a great network of friends in the military and at our church who are there to help," he said.

Today, Holliday seems to be almost everywhere appearing at local jazz clubs, Minnesota Vikings, Timberwolves and Gopher games, the Minnesota Veteran's Home and recently at the Marine Corps ball.  He will be playing Feb. 23-March 1 at the Air Force Wounded Warrior event in Las Vegas.  "I am so grateful to have the opportunities I have here in Minneapolis and with the Security Forces Squadron," he said.  "I have never worked with a unit as supportive as this one.  There are not just a few individuals, but groups of people from the 934th that come out to see me play, it's amazing, I'm not used to that level of camaraderie and support.  The security forces leadership allows me to play as much as possible, but the mission always comes first and if that means missing an opportunity to play, that's fine, there will be other opportunities in the future."

"Tech. Sgt.  Johnny Holliday is first an outstanding Airman and Security Forces member," said Lt. Col. Gregory Peterson, 934th Security Forces Squadron commander.  "As an AGR, he is part of our squadron's full time Defender force providing security and police services on the base.  In his off duty time, he is an amazing Jazz musician who avails himself to support a myriad of events including military retirement ceremonies and pro sporting events.  His efforts bring positive attention to the Air Force, the 934th Airlift Wing and the Security Forces Squadron."

Holliday currently has three albums out and is putting together a fourth which will be a Latin themed Christmas Album.  "I'm really excited about the new album, it will showcase a lot of different Latin styles and I've been lucky to recruit some of the finest musicians around to play on it.  It's a project I've been working on for a long time, I hope to have it out this fall."  In the meantime, stay tuned for some more high notes from this Minnesota Airman.