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Playing for keeps: Minneapolis reservist passionate about his music and his job in security forces.


It's Dec. 27, and the temperature in Minnesota is 14 degrees below zero. Lakes are frozen solid, and the ground feels like concrete.

Tech. Sgt. Johnny Holliday puts on his Air Force uniform and dons his beret that signifies his membership in the 934th Security Forces Squadron at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Air Reserve Station, Minnesota. Holliday is preparing for a unique mission. He's been selected to play the national anthem at the Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants National Football League game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

In the two minutes it takes for him to perform the anthem, Holliday puts it all out there. His performance reflects his love for his country, his passion for his Air Force job and his mastery of the trumpet he plays. As he hits the final note, 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.

In talking with Holliday, his enthusiasm is immediately evident. This accomplished jazz performer who also sings and plays saxophone has an energy and excitement in his voice as he talks about his music. His enthusiasm is contagious, and it doesn't stop when the topic turns to something besides 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. Today, besides serving as a full-time member of the 934th SFS, he is a frequent and much-requested performer throughout the Twin Cities area as well as nationwide.

Holliday comes from a musical family. His father was one of the pioneers of Tex-Mex music, and his uncle played with the band Sonny and the Sunliners. His uncle 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 went on to serve as a combat medic. Holliday played in his high school and junior college bands and also studied musical performance on both the trumpet and saxophone with private instructors.

While performing throughout the U.S., 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 pararescue 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 toward the Air Force where he said there would be more opportunities to pursue my music while serving in the military," Holliday said. "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 at jazz festivals, Holliday said one that stands out is his tour with Tops in Blue in 1992.

"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."

What really stands out for him now is when he goes to play for 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, and 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 (the music) is taking them back, and that really has an effect on me. It's almost like I'm going back in time with them."

With a wife, three sons and a daughter, Holliday said it's a challenge maintaining balance in his life, something everyone in the Reserve can identify with.

"Touring with musical groups and participating in military deployments are definitely tough on the family," he said. "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."

Holliday said he is grateful for all the support he receives from the 934th SFS.

"I have never worked with a unit as supportive as this one," he said. "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 SFS commander. "As an AGR (member of the active Guard and Reserve), 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 has released three albums and is putting together a fourth, which will feature Latin-themed Christmas music.

"I'm really excited about the new album," he said. "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."



(Zadach is assigned to the 934th AW public affairs office at Minneapolis-St. Paul IAP ARS.)
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Author:Zadach, Paul
Publication:Citizen Airman
Geographic Code:1U4MN
Date:Aug 1, 2016
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