YOKOSUKA, Japan – A bass player for the U.S. 7th Fleet Band is among the recipients of the 2018 Colonel Finley R. Hamilton Military Outstanding Musician Award.
Musician 3rd Class Jose Figueroa received the award from the National Band Association, which acknowledges U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard enlisted musicians, and honors the memory of Col. Finley R. Hamilton, U.S. Army (retired), who succumbed to cancer while serving as president of the association.
Figueroa, a native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, a small city, was introduced to music when he started playing the bass during grade school.
“I started playing music when I was in 7th grade. I was 12 years old. Since I was a child I had a passion and love for music,” said Figueroa. “I never had the opportunity to learn earlier until I went to a private school and had a music teacher.”
From that point, music gave Figueroa opportunities that led to his travels to different cities and eventually, another country.
“I had the chance to go to many places because of music,” said Figueroa. “The first place it took me was leaving my little home town in Puerto Rico and moving to San Juan, which is the capital. That was the first time I ever left my hometown. I moved there to study music. I was 19 when I moved to Los Angeles by myself. It was difficult and scary, but I was excited to do it. I wanted to live, study and meet other musicians there. It was scary because I didn’t know anybody there. I didn’t have any family members there or friends.”
Figueroa said he had trouble adjusting to the new city as he had to learn a new language and was away from family. Through music, he had the opportunity to meet people and make some money by playing music while going to school to continue studying music.
After his studies, he kept playing as a career until he found an ad from a military band.
“I saw a flyer for the Navy,” said Figueroa. “They were looking for bass players, drummers and guitarist. I wanted to try something different, and that flyer looked like it was perfect because the Navy offers a steady job, playing music and traveling the world. Since the moment I joined the Navy I went to Norfolk for A-School and then to Japan to 7th Fleet. It was a blessing because this is one of the hardest bands to be in, but that’s what I wanted to do.”
Figueroa used his skills to perform in the high operational tempo of U.S. 7th Fleet, where he would later be recognized.
“Figueroa demonstrated both musical excellence and musical leadership on a day to day basis in 2018,” said Chief Musician Brandon Schoonmaker, U.S. 7th Fleet Band’s leading Chief Petty Officer. “Specifically, his musical contributions as a bass player, music arranger and auxiliary percussionist have made a positive impact on all the musical units he has been a member of. He has demonstrated leadership skills far beyond the level of a 3rd class petty officer in the management of his collateral duty team.”
When presented the award, Figueroa said he was not expecting any recognition for his contributions to the band. As a musician, he believes there are other meaningful ways to find fulfillment for his work.
“Being in 7th Fleet has taken me to more than 10 countries in Asia,” said Figueroa. The most rewarding part of being here is seeing how much love people have for American music. When we perform, we play the music that’s famous in the US and when we finish and see people from Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia know the music, they want to learn about our culture. They would sing and dance to the music and I think that’s the most rewarding part of the job.”
Figueroa and members of the 7th Fleet Band are embarked aboard the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) as the ship operates as the 7th Fleet flagship supporting theater security cooperation and regional security.