AFCENT band performs for Afghans, bridges differences

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Michael Voss
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
It has been said that music and words together can be a very powerful tool, but can music be the link that brings an understanding between cultures?

The U.S. Air Forces Central Expeditionary Band strives to provide this understanding in every performance, as with their special show for Afghans at the Egyptian Field Hospital here April 20.

Traveling throughout Afghanistan, Wild Blue Country relies on the beat of a bass drum and the melody of an electric guitar to provide a forum to advance international relationships, bridging language, cultural, societal and socio-economic differences.

In the first performance at the hospital by a U.S. military band, the country music group used more than lyrics to communicate messages to the Afghans.

"We often tour environments where we don't understand our audience and they don't understand us, but we use music to break those barriers," said Senior Master Sgt. Jerome Oddo, Wild Blue Country's bass guitarist and singer. "Music brings us together. Even if they don't understand our language or what we are saying, they see the emotion of what we are singing about. Soon, they start clapping and having a good time. It's like being in an intense meeting and someone cracks a quick joke. It is the conduit that brings people together."

Operated by the Egyptian military, with security provided by U.S. Air Force security forces, the hospital, which opened its door in 2003, treats more than 7,000 Afghans per month, including women and children.

The hour-long performance was much more than just the first time an Air Force band performed at the hospital; it showed all three cultures that music could bridge differences.

"It doesn't matter that they don't know the words," said Master Sgt. Janusz Masztalerz, Wild Blue Country's sound engineer. "Especially with country music, it is about hard-working people and family."

During the performance, the band took time simply interacting with the locals, giving out CDs and letting them see the instruments they use for their shows. The band admits the door opening usually starts with kids, but after time the adults start checking them out, which allows the locals to see a different side of Airmen.

"We have played for young people all over the world, places where they don't ordinarily see service members play and dance and sing," said Tech. Sgt. Stephen Brannen, Wild Blue Country's guitar and vocalist. "They have jobs to do, but with us they get to see a different side. We debunk the image they have of the U.S. being kind of cold. We help them understand we are really just like them, so now when they see a Soldier with a gun walking down the street, they think of us and remember that young man or woman has feelings and a family just like them."

Even with security and free health-care, the trust between Bagram and its neighbors is often tested by attacks from insurgents, but events like this provide a chance for a real understanding, band members said.

"I think culturally a band does help bridge gaps between societies, because music is universal and you could tell that it was a highpoint in their day, maybe even week," said Staff Sgt. Jezreal Rogers, a 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron member who attended the concert. "Sounds from drums (or) guitars, or dancing for that matter, are not foreign to anyone."

Though the members of Wild Blue Country will likely be long gone by the time any real effects surface, the band knows they are starting a process that will grow overtime.

"We realize we are planting a seed that may take years to grow, especially since some ideas have been ingrained about certain cultures, but we are planning on relations that may come 20 to 25 years down the road," Sergeant Oddo said.

At Bagram, the band may have done more than plant a seed, they may have enhanced an already growing relationship between the Afghans and U.S. and Egyptian military.

"This is the first time we have had a musical band come to the hospital," said Egyptian Col. Tarek Eid, the Egyptian Field Hospital commander. "Their performance made the children inside the hospital very happy. We hope to see more of the bands in the future."