Guardsman joins Bands of Brothers, rocks for PTSD awareness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Claire Behney
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing
Tech. Sgt. Brian McNally, a guitarist for the Air National Guard Band of the Mid-Atlantic, never anticipated he would be on a reality television show, but when the opportunity arose to raise awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder while playing music, he was ready to rock for a great cause.

Bands of Brothers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to shedding the light on PTSD, recently brought together 12 veterans to form three bands that were filmed as part of a 10-episode online reality TV series. Their mission was to come together and play in front of a live audience at World Café Live, Philadelphia.

"It's the awareness that is important to me," said Sergeant McNally, a Marlton, N.J., resident. "I wasn't even aware of the facts before the show started."

PTSD is estimated to now be present in more than 13 million - or five percent of Americans, according to the PTSD Alliance. It is expected to touch eight percent of adults during their lives. In comparison roughly three percent of Americans have cancer, he explained.

"These are mind-blowing numbers for an issue that receives very little attention," Sergeant McNally said.

Bringing attention to PTSD is what the musicians involved in Bands of Brothers focused on during the show, with some of them sharing their personal experiences with the disease.

Filmed at Cherry Hill School of Rock, Cherry Hill, N.J., the show documented every step of the collaboration process from the first time the musicians met, to getting assistance from and playing with musical legends, to rehearsals and the finale benefit concert.

"The filming process was the hard part for me," said Sergeant McNally. "I wasn't terribly comfortable when the cameras were rolling and that shows."

Sergeant McNally said the one-on-one interviews were the most difficult for him.

"For the first couple of episodes I was giving all quick, one-sentence answers as I squirmed in my seat."

He said it took a member of the film crew poking fun of his discomfort for him to loosen up for the cameras.

Playing with the other veterans proved to be an easy transition for Sergeant McNally, who explained collaborating with new or unfamiliar musicians is something that should happen frequently for any artist.

"What was cool was how quickly we seemed to lock in," he said. "The bassists and drummers were all solid musicians so it didn't matter who I was playing with, the groove was always there and that makes a guitarist's job a lot easier."

On site at the rehearsals to help the veteran musicians fine tune their bands were some musical legends such as Mark Rivera, the saxophone player for Billy Joel; Kasim Sulton, who stepped in as the musical director for Bands of Brothers and who is best known for his work with the band Utopia; and Mike Visceglia, the bassist and musical director for Suzanne Vega. Rivera and Sulton coached the bands throughout the filming of the show.

"Playing with those cats was definitely a highlight," Sergeant McNally said. "These guys have some crazy credit to their names."

The coaches thought highly of Sergeant McNally's musical abilities as well.

"Brian is the most advanced player, he's really comfortable doing this stuff; he knows what he's doing," Sulton said in an on-screen interview in episode four of the show.

Sergeant McNally also got to play with Eric Bazilian, best known as a founding member of the band The Hooters; and Nils Lofgren, who has more than 25 years of experience as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

"I was hyper aware of what was going on because I was playing with Nils," said Sergeant McNally in an on-screen interview in episode four. "In fact I probably played worse than I would have had I just thought 'oh I'm just playing music,' but instead I was all worried about 'I hope this is cool.'"

But it was the Bands of Brothers live benefit concert in Philadelphia on Veteran's Day that reigns as the highlight of his experience.

"The finale concert at World Cafe Live was amazing," said the sergeant. "Each of the three Bands of Brothers bands played a few songs, some with the help of our celebrity musician friends, then the big league guys took the stage and played tunes from the bands that made them famous."

For the final song, he said they all took the stage together and played Joe Cocker's rendition of The Beatles' With a Little Help from My Friends as Rivera sang the lyrics.

To learn more about PTSD, visit the National Center for PTSD at
For more information and to watch this season's episodes of Bands of Brothers, visit