TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan (AFNS) --
She had never heard the song before, nor did she understand the words, but as the band played she started dancing and after a few verses she tried singing along. The language didn't matter, she could feel the music.
Full Spectrum, a U.S. Air Forces Central Command band, recently toured the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan, bringing American culture to local towns through the international language of music.
Guljamal Arstanbekova, a journalism student at Kyrgyzstan-Turkey Manas University, attended the first of four AFCENT band performances. She's lived in Bokonbaevo Village since birth and this was her first Air Force band experience.
"The performance was great, the atmosphere here is really awesome," she said with the help of a translator. "I think these events are really important and interesting because a lot of people want to go to the United States and this is a chance for them to get knowledge of something. I'm a bit nervous and excited; this is really cool what people are doing here."
The 10-person band, deployed from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., performed in town squares throughout the local area, along with performances at the Transit Center for deployed service members.
"Our biggest purpose out here is to help strengthen the relations between the United States and the local communities," said Airman 1st Class Justin Cockerham, a Full Spectrum pianist. "We're also here to support troop morale. When you deploy there's a lot of stress and it's nice to have a band come out here and make you feel like you're at home for a little while."
Strengthening relations between Americans and Kyrgyz was not only the goal of Full Spectrum; the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek sponsored the band's tour across the community as part of its American Corners program decennial celebration.
The American Corners program provides a path of communication and mutual understanding between American and Kyrgyz people, allowing an exchange of languages, cultures and life experiences. This goal is achieved through a variety of events such as English language clubs, movie nights, conversation classes, holiday celebrations and lectures by guest speakers.
For the bandsmen, it was an opportunity to interact with the local community.
"This is something special, because the U.S. Embassy has a program called American Corners, which is a good opportunity for not only us, but for people with the U.S. Embassy to interact directly with the youth of this nation through talking and games," said Master Sgt. John Cisar, the Full Spectrum assistant NCO in charge and trombonist. "We've sort of augmented that with our music."
The embassy provided books, seating and activities prior to the concerts, allowing a smooth introduction and icebreaker for the AFCENT band. This support fostered one-on-one time with the audience prior to performing.
"We danced with them, had a good time, and showed them a little bit about the instruments," said Tech. Sgt. Edward Williams, a Full Spectrum drummer. "I had kids on the drums and took pictures with them and their families."
He said the interaction with the audience made all the hard work and being away from his family worth it.
"It's hard on our families, they miss us a lot," Williams said. "But telling them the stories that we bring back from these deployments ... they understand. So it's not so bad."
Not only were the musicians performing, they worked hard before and after each show. They set up their equipment, weighing almost two tons, a couple hours prior to each performance. After the show they tore down the set and packed up before moving to the next location.
"We are our own load crew, our own roadies, our own guitar techs, our own everything, from the lowest ranking Airman to the senior NCOs and officer," said Senior Master Sgt. Keith Erb, the Full Spectrum NCO in charge and guitarist.
This band doesn't shy away from hard work and dedication, the musicians said, because they understand the importance of their mission.
"I think performing for the youth is really a great opportunity, because it's a chance for us to connect with the young culture and to plant some seeds for the future," Cisar said.