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.
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
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
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
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."
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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.