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Hanks High grad named Army Soldier-Musician of the Year

Army Specialist Ruben Salinas has been named the 2017 Army Soldier-Musician of the Year. Salinas is a graduate of Hanks High School and UTEP. (Photo Courtesy: Michele Vowell, Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office)

Specialist Ruben Salinas is the 2017 Army Soldier-Musician of the Year.

A saxophone player in the 101st Airborne Division Band, Salinas was selected for the award by Col. Neal F. McIntyre, Chief of Army Music, from Soldiers in 29 active duty bands.

“It’s a great honor,” Salinas said. “It’s a little bit surreal. To be recognized at that level is really quite something.”

Each Army band is allowed to nominate one Soldier from its unit. Salinas was nominated based on the total Soldier concept, devotion to duty and his accomplishments during the past year, said 1st Sgt. Jeffrey J. Dudzienski, 101st Abn. Div. Band first sergeant.

Salinas is the second 101st Abn. Div. Band member to receive this award. The first was newly-promoted Sgt. James Liverman in 2010. Liverman was a principal trumpeter in the 101st’s Brass Quintet.

“It’s a fantastic achievement. It demonstrates what I’ve been speaking about Salinas since I first got to know him,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Doswell, 101st Abn. Div. Band commander. “He is absolutely going to go far in the Army. I think this is the first of what is bound to be a long string of accolades for him.”

The Chief of Army Music will present awards to the winners during the Army Music Leaders Training Forum being held from June 9-11 at Joint Base Little Creek – Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Band member Staff Sgt. Stephen Paul Hann wrote Salinas’ nomination for the award.

“Salinas was the one that stood out the most in our band,” he said. “Just that he got looked at in comparison with all the other Soldiers in the Army band field and to get selected, shows a lot of credit to him and what he’s been able to do.”

A young start

A native of El Paso, Texas, Salinas is the son of Annie and Juan Salinas. His parents were migrant workers who immigrated from Mexico.

His father served in a wheeled vehicle maintenance Army unit based at Fort Bliss, Texas, before retiring as a first sergeant. His mother is an elementary school guidance counselor. Now, they both have master’s degrees.

“My mom impressed on me, ‘You are what you make of yourself,’ and ‘don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be more,’” Salinas said. Although his father served in the Army, Salinas said they were not the typical military Family.

“Unlike most Army brats where they were constantly moving, I was more or less stationary because my dad would go work somewhere else for a couple of years and then come back to El Paso,” he said. “Me, my mom and my sisters would stay put. Even though I was in that life, it didn’t really hit me what sacrifices my Family was making until I joined [the Army].”

When he was a sixth grader at Del Norte Heights Elementary School, Salinas wanted to join the band. His mother bought a used saxophone from his cousin.

“Originally, I had wanted to play flute, but the instrument my mom could get me at the time was a saxophone from my cousin,” he said. “That ended up being the instrument that I picked [going forward].”

He got his first professional instrument in seventh grade, which he played in the J.M. Hanks High School marching band, at the University of Texas at El Paso and early in his Army career.

“It’s so flexible,” he said of the saxophone. “I get the best of all worlds. I can play this great classical stuff and I can play in the [101st] Brass Band, which is a more raunchy, more popular style of music. I can do the jazz thing. I don’t feel like I’m limited.”

In college, Salinas studied music education, but admits leading students in band practice was not fulfilling for him professionally. Two professors – Donald Wilkinson and Gregory Luffy – helped him to develop his musical skills and guide him to a music career in the military.

“If you had asked me if I could see myself here five years ago, it never crossed my mind,” he said. “I was not particularly interested in the military.”

As graduation neared, Salinas’ girlfriend – now wife – became pregnant. Then, he started looking into joining the Army.

“I wanted to be in that role expressing myself,” he said. “So, needing a job with good benefits … three months later I shipped off [to basic]. It’s not been easy making that transition from civilian to Soldier, but it’s treated me very well.”

101st Band

For the past two and a half years, Salinas has performed with the 101st Abn. Div. Band and the 101st’s Brass Band. From playing at changes of command to memorial ceremonies to marching in parades and performing at professional sporting events, Salinas said the Soldier-musicians stay active and engaged in their craft.

“It’s busy,” he said. “There’s lots of moving parts. There’s a lot of work. It’s good stuff.”

To prepare for those musical missions, Salinas said he practices 90 minutes to two hours each day at the 101st Band Hall on 34th Street.

“Certain missions you’re playing music that’s familiar and certain missions you’re playing music that’s out there,” he said. “The more stuff that I have that’s new, I have to tailor my practice.”

When he’s not practicing music, Salinas is developing himself as a Soldier. He said he would like to achieve the top 300 score on the Army Physical Fitness Test and to advance up the ranks.

Doswell said Salinas is very good at setting and meeting his goals. Doswell said Salinas figured out what achievement points and awards he needed to earn to get his sergeant’s stripes and set those goals. Salinas will be promoted on May 1, 2017.

“He has this amazing ability to visualize his goal,” Doswell said. “He encapsulates the backwards planning … he sees what he wants and he figures out how to go about getting it.”

As for being named the 2017 Army Soldier-Musician of the Year, Doswell said Salinas is deserving of he award.

“It really gets to the heart of who Spc. Salinas is,” he said. “This award for him is absolutely an amazing recognition. The Army is getting an opportunity to see what we’re seeing from him.”

For Salinas, winning the Army award is a solid achievement that he shares with his wife, Star, 3-year-old daughter, Aria, and the rest of his Family. He said his mom was not surprised that he won.

“In middle school and high school, I was the one trying to get into first chair and taking all of the solos. I kind of got acclimated to being in the spotlight …,” he said. “She was always pushing me to be the best I can.”

Looking to the future, Salinas said his goal is to be the saxophone instructor at the U.S. Army School of Music in Norfolk, Virginia.

“I think that would be a neat job,” he said. “What a cool opportunity.”

For every opportunity, Salinas said there is work to be done to achieve that goal.

“It’s all about making those opportunities for you, seeking them and trying … not being shy or scared of failing. That’s not just a Soldier thing, that’s very much a musician thing,” he said. “Too many people are afraid to try things that are more difficult because they’re comfortable and they don’t want to fail … You never grow without risking a little bit.”

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