Military Support Group Kicked Out of Union Station for Playing Bagpipes Without Permit

By James Beattie | October 30, 2013 | 4:53 PM EDT

Members of the Allied Forces Foundation Pipe and Drum Corps play bagpipes in Union Station in Washington, D.C. ( Beattie)

( - An organization that serves British and American soldiers and its families was told by Union Station security in Washington, D.C., Saturday that it could not play its bagpipes, because it did not have a permit.

The Allied Forces Foundation (AFF), which helps wounded soldiers and their families in the United Kingdom as well as the United States, had a luncheon at Pizzeria Uno’s on Saturday for their families and supporters in the buildup to the Marine Corps Marathon, held the following day.

As part of the event, a couple members of the AFF’s Pipe and Drum Corps played a couple of tunes on bagpipes to entertain their group, as well as the general public. The pipers played on the balcony which faces the main promenade, but several members of Union Station’s security team stopped them, because they did not have a permit to play.

Maj. Steven Cain, MBE, one of the founders of the AFF who served for 20 years in the British Special Forces, explained that the entire incident was “ridiculous.”

“Today [Saturday] we were invited to play at the expo for the Marine Corps marathon. People loved it. They were applauded, and they came back. We came here and just to entertain, they just started to pipe,” said Cain.

“Most people loved it, but a little fellow came, and he said we needed a permit, and he came heavy handed with a bunch of his guys, and it was ridiculous. So the crowd didn’t like it, we didn’t like it, and it was doing no harm, but that’s the way it ended,” he added.

The incident occurred right as the pipes were playing “Amazing Grace.”

Ox Gara, drum major with the AFF Pipe and Drum Corps, explained that “Amazing Grace” transitions into The Marine Corps Hymn. He called the whole occurrence “very strange.”

“Right in the middle of ‘Amazing Grace’ the whole tune stopped, and I was on the other end of the seating area, and I knew something was wrong,” Gara said. “The next thing I know, all the pipers came back, and they said, ‘We’ve been shut down by security.’

“I’ve heard bad reactions to piping before, but nothing like where they sent three or four security people in a swarm in the middle of ‘Amazing Grace’ to shut down a pipe band which was playing for our allies and our wounded warriors,” he said.

“I mean I realize that they had a job to do, but I think it was maybe a little misplaced at that moment. They could’ve let them play and then given us a caution, but this was something that we do all the time, and we played here last year as well. It just seemed very strange,” Gara added.

In a follow-up with Cain, the AFF did not ask for permission to play this year but requested permission last year via Azalea Charities.

Lauren Dyer from the Union Station’s property management office said that the incident was stopped because AFF did not have a permit.

“You have to call ahead of time. There has to be the appropriate paperwork. There has to be approval. There’s a lot of events, and people come in and ask to do things like that, and they do not get approved. If we just let anyone come in whenever they wanted and there was no scheduling or security or COIs or any sort of planning, there would be chaos,” Dyer said.

Dyer said a bagpipe incident such as this is the first of this kind in her nearly five years working at Union Station, but acknowledged that this would have been a great event had the proper paperwork been in order.

“Most people call and schedule. If this had been a call ahead of time, if we had the appropriate paperwork in order, everything had been approved, it would’ve been a lovely thing to have at the station,” she added.