Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul


Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn is a Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music. She has performed music at venues around the world and in front of Royalty on many occasions. She is now assigned to work with the Afghan National Army at their Officers’ Academy in Kabul.

What is a military musician doing in Kabul?

British military body armour, carrying two different types of weapons, travelling through the busy and often volatile streets of Kabul.  Yes, I am a member of the Armed forces.  I have served as a musician and more recently as Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) for the last 16 years.  I have performed all round the world for different Regiments, charities and civilian organisations.  So, you may ask, ‘what is a military musician doing in Kabul?’.  In short, I have been given the fantastic opportunity to serve with the Afghan National Army at what will be their flagship Officer Academy (ANAOA).

The UK agreed some two years ago to support Afghanistan in creating this Academy using the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Camberley as a model.  It has resulted with more than 100 British Army and Partner Nation Officers and soldiers, mentoring Afghanistan’s instructors and staff in fulfilling this aspiration.  The first Kandak (Battalion) to go through is now on its second term.  Next term they will have a female Tolay (company) starting, a very exciting prospect for the ANAOA team; I can’t wait to meet the female cadets and instructors and exchange stories about our respective armies.

Now, why does the Academy need a musician?  It doesn’t. So, why am I here?  I will be maintaining the Officer Academy Course Administration.  This is not a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination, but a much needed role. Just because I am a musician, it does not mean I can’t turn my hand to other roles.  Indeed, I am not the only musician here at Camp Qargha, it is also the home for Drum Major Jason Bates of the Army Air Corps Band, and Musn Pete Noble of the Scots Guards Band.  Both are Vehicle Driver/Commanders for the Unified Training Advisory Group.  Their duties differ greatly from the day-to-day life of a musician, and can be quite intense.  However, I believe they are enjoying their time here.  Although Musn Noble is intent on getting back in time to take part in this year’s Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards.  Luckily he has his trumpet with him, so he can ‘keep his lip in’!

Me, Drum Major Bates and Musn Noble.

Me, Drum Major Bates and Musician Noble.

I have in total Eight-and-a-half months in this compact location.  I wonder how I will cope in such a small space, the lack of privacy, not being able to take walks in the country and not being able to go shopping for clothes I don’t actually need. I wonder how I’ll cope not seeing my boyfriend, family and friends, and of course my beloved Springer Spaniel. Also, what about my skill fade as a musician! The crux of it is, I could be in a worse place, where conditions are extremely basic, and communications with loved ones are limited.

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