Airmen deployed to combat zones today perform a variety of missions, ranging from precision bombing to explosive ordnance disposal, to working with local community leaders as members of provincial reconstruction teams and even training Iraqi and Afghan soldiers and airmen.
Air Force bandsmen, too, operate throughout the U.S. Central Command region helping further relationships in challenging environments while also entertaining U.S. and coalition forces.
"We need to provide ground commanders with every available asset to win in the (counter-insurgency) environment," said Lt. Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, "and this means Airmen making relationships one person at a time, amongst the local population. The gift of music opens doors that a weapon can't. Our Airmen musicians are out there in the AOR reaching people through their music."
Consisting of Airmen who are also professional musicians, the AFCENT band transcends boundaries of language, culture, time, geography and bias to inspire lasting partnerships. Entertaining U.S. and coalition forces, they bring a taste of home and normalcy to a deployed environment. Band performances also assist community diplomacy - not only for school groups and at host-nation community events, but also at high-profile official or diplomatic events.
"Bands bring people together and can make the mission easier in a difficult environment," said Lt. Col. Alan Sierichs, Air Force Public Affairs chief of music. "Earlier this year, a group from The Air Force Band, deployed from Washington, D.C., played for audiences ranging from school-age children through college students in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. Embassy staff said they consistently saw positive changes in attitude after each performance, and the ambassador was heard to say the performances 'went a long way in furthering U.S. goals.'"
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said during a TV interview when asked whether musicians have a role to play in diplomacy, "There are certainly times when music conveys American values better than a speech."
Air Force bands portray American values via a diverse mix of musical genres. While some ensembles specialize in a particular style, they train to include formats appealing to a wide-range of musical tastes and include musical styles native to the country where they perform.
"The AFCENT Band performances in the schools and culture centers in nearby villages opened a door for us to talk to the students and adults alike and to share a common bond," said Col. Dwight Sones, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing commander at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. "These performances spread our message that we are partners here, and we are working together to improve the lives of the people of Kyrgyzstan."
Airmen from the Air Force Band of Flight, based out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, are currently deployed aboard the U.S.S. Iwo Jima on a four-month humanitarian civil assistance mission. The mission is providing medical, dental, veterinary and engineering assistance to residents of eight countries, and the bandsmen are helping "open doors" to often-skeptical publics.
"Music is another way to communicate, and it opens the hearts and minds of the people," said Maj. Mike Mench, Air Force Band of Flight commander. "When the United States military plays the music of a host nation, it lowers the borders and enables us to perform the medical and engineering mission more effectively."
When not deployed, the bands serve as a public face for the Air Force to the American and international publics. They travel throughout their region playing in communities, and for many people these ambassadors are often the only Airmen they meet. Bandsmen also serve as an example of the professionalism and skill embodied by all Airmen.
"What's seen are real people wearing the uniform of our country, using their talents to serve our nation. They also represent the precision and professionalism people expect from the Air Force," Colonel Sierichs explained.
During Air Force Week celebrations across the U.S., Air Force bands often reach people otherwise not interested in the Air Force. In New York City this past August, Air Force bandsmen entertained civilians of all ages at various venues throughout the city, including a proclamation ceremony, a Major League Baseball game and a rock band performance in Times Square which entertained thousands.
For Air Force Week in Sacramento, Sept. 5 to 13, 2009, bands from California and Washington, D.C. played at events and performed numerous radio and television appearances to draw community attention to scheduled events. They performed genres ranging from classical to country to rock. By request, with only a week's notice, they also formed a Dixieland ensemble that played at the entrance to a local baseball game and sang the National Anthem for the sporting event.
Regardless of their location or venue, Airman musicians strive to hit the right notes to support the Air Force mission.
More information on Air Force bands may be found on their website at www.bands.af.mil
. Air Force band performances may be requested by military or civilian organizations through their website at www.outreachrequests.hq.af.mil