War on Terrorism

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Reserve Generation brings taste of home to troops in Afghanistan

by Staff Sgt. Eric Burks
U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs

1/2/2013 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- (Editor's Note: The U.S. Air Forces Central Band  is a Total Force unit comprised of deployed Airmen from the Band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve and U.S. Army band.)

As the group of musicians took to the stage in front of a large audience at Kandahar Airfield's popular boardwalk area on a cold December night, there was something distinctly different about the band.

With all members dressed in the same combat fatigues, it wasn't something that could be easily spotted by a casual observer. But there was a clue if one listened carefully to the music ... has a cover of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" ever featured a trombone?

Audiences in Afghanistan now have heard one, courtesy of three Army bandsmen currently performing with the AFCENT band "Total Force." The Soldiers' wind instruments - trombone, saxophone, and trumpet - were a welcome complement to the Air Force musicians' guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and vocals.

The joint endeavor is a first of its kind in the deployed environment, according to U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Rafael Toro-Quinones, AFCENT Band officer in charge, and Army Maj. Derrick Shaw, U.S. Army Central Bands liaison officer.

The officers, who worked together prior to their deployments, envisioned a holiday tour as the right time and place for a joint musical effort.

"With Air Force and Army band assets in theater, we started conversing about what they were doing," Toro-Quinones said. "We wanted to plan a special event, and the holiday season seemed like a perfect opportunity."

The goal was integrate components of deployed Army division bands into the AFCENT band for a special holiday tour of bases in Afghanistan, performing for deployed U.S. service members and their coalition partners.

The Airman and Soldier band partnership reflects the reality of today's joint operational environment.

"It mirrors what we're already doing as warfighters in the area of responsibility," Shaw said. "It's a musical extension of the 'guy on the ground needs the guy in the air.' It sends a good message, especially when you have all branches working together away from their families during the holidays."

Toro-Quinones agreed.

"It makes sense, and it's the right time of year to do it," he said. "'Total Force' has no horn capability and the Army has provided that - even from a strictly musical standpoint, adding horns really enhances holiday music."

Army Staff Sgt. Brad Leja, U.S. Army Europe Band and Chorus trombone player, said he was thrilled at the prospect of playing his instrument in a different capacity.

"I got so excited when I found out I would be playing with a rock band," he said. "It was also my first opportunity to play in a deployed environment facing adverse conditions. It's been very eye-opening and not at all what I expected."

After the arrangements were made for the Army musicians to perform with the Air Force band, there were still a number of challenges, even after the Soldiers linked up with the Airmen to begin the holiday tour.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Josh Byrd, "Total Force" music director, said there were a few challenges to pulling off the joint shows.

"As a music director, part of my job is to add in their parts and make our songs sound even better. We use different computer systems, so I had to write their sheet music on one system, convert it to a different file format, then email it to them to access on their system."

Finally, he said, the musicians had very little time to meet and practice before it was time to travel to Afghanistan and begin the holiday tour.

"The time from our first meeting to our first integrated performance was a matter of days, whereas the rest of 'Total Force' has been playing together for months or even years."

But as the tour began, it became obvious that these particular Soldiers and Airmen were a good match - and an effective touring band.

"I think it's worked very well," Shaw said. "It's interesting watching how quickly they've gelled together as a team.

"It was very unique," Toro-Quinones said. "The personalities just clicked and they worked very well together."

The band members said one reason for their success was their a shared goal: giving their best effort to boost the morale of deployed servicemembers at each and every performance.

"Deployers really deserve our best," Leja said. "I feel like we've done some good out here and it's been even more rewarding than I was expecting."

"We all take entertaining the troops very seriously," Byrd said. "It's more than just earning a paycheck to us. We're all aiming for the same goal, so bringing it together is amazing to see."

Judging from the cheers and applause after each performance, the band has certainly succeeded at raising a few holiday spirits, even if most audience members don't even realize they've witnessed a true "Total Force" effort.

"The show was outstanding, and a great break from the routine," said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Bobbitt, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing command post, after the boardwalk performance at Kandahar Airfield. "It was entertaining and the band played very well together."

As the holiday tour wraps up, these Army and Air Force bandsmen hope to be involved in more total force efforts in the future.

"This tour has been even better than I expected it to be," Bryd said. "We've improved with each performance and will really miss playing with them."

"It's been groundbreaking," Leja said. "I hope it leads to more opportunities where we can work together to make awesome things happen. I'd love to do it again."

To learn more about "Total Force" and the band's holiday tour, visit: https://www.facebook.com/AFCENTBand.

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