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Musician, combat engineer wants to keep all 10 bass-playing fingers

NAME: Sgt. Brian Dollinger

AGE: 30

HOMETOWN: Morton, Ill.

BRANCH: Marines

JOB: Combat engineer


CAMP CHESTY, central Iraq—Sgt. Brian Dollinger wants to be home in Morton, Ill., by May 30, when his daughter, Arianna, turns 3.

"I'm hoping to get back by then," he says. "And I know I'll be home in time for my wife's birthday in July."

But then he continues: "Every day that goes by, I get a little more concerned that I won't make it. That timeline is starting to crunch down."

Dollinger, 30, is a combat engineer with 6th Engineer Support Battalion, and his commanders aren't as optimistic about when they'll be back in the United States. They are hoping to get back by October, but even that date changes constantly.

"Even though the mission is complete, there are different things we can do as engineers," Dollinger says. "I'm ready for it to be done. But I know how long it took us to come over, all the stages it took to get to California and then to get over here."

Dollinger, a Marine Reserve, is a doctoral student in music at Ball State University. His specialty is conducting orchestras and playing the bass.

He was one semester from finishing his coursework when he was deployed, and now he doesn't know when he'll get a chance to finish it.

"Certain classes are offered only at certain times and not every year," Dollinger says. "That may be a problem when I get back."

After he earns his doctorate, Dollinger hopes to teach at the university level.

"Hopefully, it's a position like Ball State where I'll conduct the orchestras, I'll teach conducting, teach bass and then have a professional local symphony as well," he says.

His wife, Sabina, is also a doctoral candidate in music at Ball State. They were planning to marry in July, but they bumped up the wedding to Jan. 14. The next day, he had to report.

"It's been a learning experience to watch people adapt and cope with issues," he says. "Not everybody adapts very well. The ones you wouldn't think would be very strong have really come forward. I've been very surprised by a lot of Marines, how strong they've been and how they were able to pull through."

Dollinger has spent most of his time in Iraq fortifying positions and on security details. His main concern is losing a finger, which would hurt his ability to play the bass.

"When I'm doing the explosives, I'm not thinking about losing a finger," he says. "If something goes wrong, I'll lose more than a finger. When I'm doing barbed wire, yes, I think about it. If I lost a finger on my left hand, that would hurt me big time. That's the hand that goes up and down the neck of the instrument when I'm playing bass. As far as conducting, if I lost my right arm, I could conduct with my left."

He's on five paying orchestras, four consistently. "Everybody needs a bass player," he says.

When he gets back from the war, Dollinger plans to dedicate a performance to the Marines who died.

"There are tons of pieces out there that are used in memorial concerts," he says. "I'm going to have a moment of silence and play a piece for them."

While Dollinger is starving to hear some classical music, he says he has benefited by being around Marines with a wide variety of musical tastes.

"I would give anything for a Beethoven Symphony right now, a quartet, anything," he says. "But I've been hearing all kinds of music from the younger Marines. I can't even pronounce some of the names of these groups, can't understand some of the things they are saying, but it's different music and interesting to hear it. Once in a while, I'll even get a good country tune."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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