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Bulletproff belly: Kevlar stomach lining allows trumpet player to keep hitting those 'screaming high notes'.

Taking the stage at the Hawkinsville Opera House in Georgia for a community performance in August, Staff Sgt. Marcel Marchetti belts out a rendition of the "Second Line," a New Orleans rhythmic jazz tune associated with jazz funerals and Mardi Cras parades. The sergeant blows his trumpet and dances a jig as he and other members of the Blue Notes rip through the number.

For Sergeant Marchetti, this or any other performance might not be possible if not for a thin layer of Kevlar mesh and the miracle of modern medicine.

Most people in the military associate Kevlar with vests and helmets, worn over their uniform, used to protect them from bullets and flying shrapnel. But this member of the Band of the Air Force Reserve goes a step further. In addition to wearing Kevlar outside of his uniform, Sergeant Marchetti wears it on the inside. Not just inside his uniform, but, literally, inside his body.

The 12-year veteran of the Band of the Air Force Reserve and operational director for the Blue Notes was born with a weak stomach lining, a condition he was unaware of until he was an adult.

"When I was young, it didn't bother me," he said. "I had no clue."

It wasn't until he was playing a gig in the late '90s at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., that he found out there was a problem.

"I was playing an Arturo Sandoval (a Cuban jazz legend) tune; he's one of my idols and a great trumpet player," Sergeant Marchetti said. "I try to play music true to the style. If it's Cuban, which is high and loud stuff, then that's what I do. Well, 1 did. and it killed me. I definitely felt a pop but kept on playing. It wasn't life-threatening. I didn't think much of it at the time."

Later on, during a routine physical, doctors told him he had a problem. That "pop" Sergeant Marchetti felt during his performance at MacDill was medically diagnosed as a bilateral inguinal hernia. Inguinal hernias can either be congenital (present from birth), although they don't manifest themselves until later, or can occur as a result of repetitive pressure (such as that created by blowing a horn), strain or injury.

In Sergeant Marchetti's case, the hernia affected the structural integrity and function of his already weakened abdominal wall.

"It was a screaming high note that did it," he said. "It's a technique I use to play. Music directors tell you to play from your diaphragm. The diaphragm pushed down and blew the wall out."

The cure for his ailment was to insert a flexible, yet sturdy, piece of Kevlar mesh into his stomach to support the stomach tissue. Doctors put the wafer-thin, flexible mesh under the hernia to immediately "repair" it.

The mesh covers not only the hernia itself but also the thinned and weakened tissue that surrounds the area, according to the North Penn Hernia Institute's Web site.

"It's definitely less painful now," Sergeant Marchetti said. "I play better now because I'm older and more experienced, and I keep working on my trade. I'm stronger for it. I just want to play my best and do my job for the Air Force."

He jokes about the Kevlar saying, "Let's hope if I ever get shot at it will save me in another area I never thought about."

But for now, he's just traveling and doing what he loves, playing music in the Blue Notes, a zoot suit-wearing band that he co-founded.

"They asked me to do Dixieland Express (another group within the band)," Sergeant Marchetti said. "That's a great group, but it has limitations when it comes to reaching out to the people. This group expands the possibilities and has more capabilities in different areas.

"When I was asked to join Dixieland, 1 said it wasn't what I really wanted to do. But if you let us, me and Tech. Sgt. Bill Granger, make something and run with it. we'll give you a product you'll be pleased with. We kind of stuck our necks out."

Sergeant Marchetti said his group covers a wide range of bases. He compares the Blue Notes to the new F-22 Raptor. One plane can take out seven targets instead of seven planes for seven targets.

"If a military band goes into a school for recruiting, the uniform sets up a wall," he said. "This is a feel-good band that gets the kids off their seats dancing in the aisles, and they forget we are military. Then we let them know about the jobs available in the Air Force, that it's not all war fighting. We inform them on the benefits."

For Sergeant Marchetti a real testament of how far the Blue Notes have come is the fact that former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper requested the group to play at the Conference of the Chiefs of the Air Forces of the Americas.

As the Blue Notes wind down their set in Hawkinsville, Sergeant Marchetti's jacket is long since gone, and he is soaked with sweat as he bows to the crowd, with a smile on his face and only a good feeling in his stomach.

By Master Sgt. Chance C. Babin

(Sergeant Babin wrote this article while on a temporary duty assignment with Citizen Airman.)

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Author:Babin, Chance C.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Words:893
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