Airmen from the Transit Center at Manas enjoy the U.S. Air Force Academy Band group Wild Blue Country along with members of the Russian military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel III)
by Master Sgt. Karl Bradley
AFCENT Band Operations/Logistics Representative
5/19/2011 - TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- Citizens and Airmen from Colorado Springs, Colo., have been fostering a relationship with its sister city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, for more than 17 years. Their visits to this community help strengthen international diplomatic relations and break down cultural differences.
In 2007, a representative of the 376th Medical Group and deployed Airmen from the U.S. Air Force Academy met with the mayor of Bishkek and former U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan as a renewal of ties that were established in 1994. An exchange of gifts to the mayor of Bishkek on behalf of the mayor of Colorado Springs took place as well as personal invitations for each. With this renewal, both cities worked on a project to foster relations between each other's school children through a pen pal program.
Sister City International is a non-profit citizen diplomacy network that strives to strengthen partnerships between U.S. and international communities by promoting peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation -- one individual, one community at a time.
In 2008, a group from the U.S. Air Force Academy Band took the relationship further. The deployed bandsmen presented a proclamation from the mayor of Colorado Springs and a full scholarship to prestigious Colorado College for any Kyrgyz student the mayor of Bishkek deemed worthy.
"The opportunity to represent not only the U.S. Air Force but the people of Colorado Springs directly to the leadership of Bishkek was a highlight of my time with Air Force Central Command", said Senior Master Sgt. (retired) Larry Hill, who is now the 30th Space Wing Chief of Media at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. "The continuing relationship between our nations helps to ensure stability in this important region."
Also in 2008, these Air Force Academy bandsmen provided community outreach performances to assist with diplomatic relations in the area. During the six months prior, Transit Center at Manas leadership had been working with local Bishkek officials to make airport improvements which would benefit all involved, but negotiations stalled.
A veteran of now nine deployments, Tech. Sgt. Jerome Baysmore, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, was on location when these Airmen visited.
"We had been hosting all kinds of events to convince local (Bishkek) officials that flight-line safety improvements had to be made," said Sergeant Baysmore. "Nobody was budging until we hosted an event with the band from the (U.S. Air Force) Academy. They did in four minutes what we couldn't do in six months of negotiations."
Improvements were made; a bond between Transit Center at Manas and local Bishkek officials was cemented.
In 2011, deployed U.S. Air Force Academy bandsmen visited Bishkek and performed at a local public school, Children's Cancer Center and a standing-room-only performance at the State Philharmonic Theatre downtown. They impressed local and U.S. Embassy officials by connecting through the emotional power of music by drawing similarities to Kyrgyz culture and the American cowboy.
"In ten years here I've seen many groups from the U.S.", said State Philharmonic Stage Manager. "I didn't realize (until now) American's had feelings."
These events also included a special "Cosmonaut Day" dedication performance. Col. Dwight Sones, 376th AEW commander had been working to improve relations with local Russian Air Base personnel for seven months. Once again, talks stalled. The successful performance led to two unprecedented invitations from Russian military leaders for U.S. troops to attend events on their base.
Through these Airmen and Sister City International, it's hard to miss how peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation can be accomplished across diverse cultural boundaries.