Juneau-Douglas High School senior Anja M. Akstin will join the Marine Corps this fall with the rare honor of playing tuba in one of its 12 bands.
Only 600 of 174,000 Marines play in a Corps band, said Anchorage-based Staff Sgt. William M. Kidd, who recruited Akstin.
The recruiting wasn't hard. Kidd said Akstin ran down the school hallway to meet him.
Most Marine band members hold bachelor's degrees in music, Kidd said. It's rare for a recruit to qualify for a band while in high school.
Akstin began playing an instrument in sixth grade and now plays 17 instruments, many self-taught. She has played the tuba and trombone with various school and community bands.
JDHS band teacher Ken Guiher noticed her musical promise at middle school concerts.
"She's very determined," he said. "She works really hard at it. She practices long hours. She's always very serious when it comes to music."
But only last school year, when Akstin noticed a higher level of excellence in her playing, did she think she might pursue music as a career.
Akstin has performed in the Southeast Honors Music Festival and the All-State Music Festival over a number of years. She'll perform with the All-Northwest Honor Band in February in Bellevue, Wash.
Playing music, "you get into a different mindset," Akstin said. "I can really nitpick and not feel like I'm doing something mean. ... Whereas if you're really picky in other things, people think you're a jerk."
"Your goal can be to be the best. In other things, if your goal is to be the best, you're looked upon as improper. But in music that's the way it's supposed to be. You can be competitive in music and not touch anybody else. Pretty cool."
Akstin auditioned over the speakerphone in a high school office for the man who coordinates Marine bands west of the Mississippi River. Usually, recruits are asked to perform in person in a further audition. But Akstin was accepted right away, Kidd said.
Even band members are infantrymen. In September, Akstin will undergo boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., for 13 weeks, and then take combat training for a month. Akstin already surpasses the active-duty physical requirements, such as upper-body strength, Kidd said.
"If she didn't know how to play the tuba, I would enlist this girl in a heartbeat just for her mental attitude and physical well-being," Kidd said.
She'll attend the Armed Forces School of Music in Little Creek, Va., for six months. She'll graduate with nearly the equivalent of an associate's degree, Kidd said.
After that, Akstin will find out where she's stationed for the rest of her four-year stint. Akstin said she'll apply for the President's Own, a 50-member Marine band that performs exclusively for presidential ceremonies because it's the best band.
Akstin said she likes to test her limits, whether she's writing poetry, climbing rock faces or playing video games. She would have joined the Marines even if they didn't have bands.
"There's no comparison to a Marine," she said. "They are the best people you will ever meet. If you're going to go for it, you don't go partway; you go all the way. The Marines are extreme. They are hard-core, and I don't see any reason not to be hard-core.
"That, and they'll pay for college."
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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