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AFCENT band Afghanistan tour
The Air Forces Central Command Band performs for service members outside a green beans coffee shop Dec. 24, 2013, at Forward Operating Base Fenty, Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The AFCENT band entertained service members during Christmas eve and Christmas day performances while at FOB Fenty, the last stop on their 15 day tour of Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson/released)
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AFCENT Band deploys holiday cheer to Afghanistan

Posted 1/6/2014   Updated 1/13/2014 Email story   Print story

    


by Tech Sgt. Jason Robertson
AFCENT Combat Camera


1/6/2014 - Afghanistan -- Systems Go, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Band, began a 15-day holiday tour of Afghanistan arriving at their first stop, Shindand Air Field, Herat Province, before sunrise Dec. 14.

Within hours of landing the nine member band unpacked their 4,500 pounds of gear, set-up and were playing for service members at a Shindand dining facility during lunch. Risks of operating in a combat zone were made clear immediately with an indirect fire attack after the band wrapped up their first performance.

"Three of the four locations we performed at came under attack during the holiday visit," said Capt. Haley Armstrong, AFCENT band officer in charge and Sonora, Ca. native. "Like other service members around us, we look out for our wingman or battle buddy, communicate our accountability and continue with the mission. We give each other a lot of strength and motivate each other."

Systems Go performed at the base recreation center that evening; a welcomed event following the attacks earlier in the day.

"The band was like a nice cold drink of water in a dry place," said Israel Sosa, an English language contract instructor, who said his building was struck by shrapnel during the indirect fire attack. "My sprit was lifted by the music and my mind is cleared," said Sosa.

At Shindand the band also visited with and performed for Airmen of the 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group.

"It was outstanding to see some fellow Airmen here on this FOB; it boosted our morale immensely," said Lt. Col Eric Schmidt, 445th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander.

After three days of performing at Shindand, the band palletized their equipment.

"It's like a game of Tetris," said Airman 1st Class William Mealer, audio engineer and equipment manager from Atlanta, Ga., referring to arranging the 68 equipment cases on the pallet.

With the pallet loaded on a C-130J Super Hercules, the band departed for Camp Bastion and Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, once again arriving before sunrise.

At Camp Bastion, Airmen of the 651st Air Expeditionary Group opened their maintenance hangar for the band.

"There were people here today who were smiling, cutting up and dancing, who never do anything like that," said Master Sgt. Travon Dennis, 651st AEG first sergeant, deployed from the 94th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Dobbins Air Force Base, Ga.

The band provided six performances in three days for service members at Camp Bastion and Camp Leatherneck. "I've been here almost nine months and haven't seen anything like this; it was great," said Spc. Ashraf Mohamed, 1st Special Operations Group, and Brooklyn, N.Y. native.

Another C-130J deployed the band to their next tour location, Bagram Airfield, Parwan Province. Arriving in the middle of the night and checking into transient billeting, the team caught a few hours of sleep before setting up for their next performance.

The visit included a live performance on Bagrams radio station to share holiday cheer with base work centers and generate publicity for four concerts and multiple live performances in Bagram work centers.

The bands primary mission is to lift the morale of deployed service members.

"Our Airmen and other coalition partners are working hard, they need a boost and I'm glad we've been able to do that," said Master Sgt. Toby McWilliams, the band guitarist and Lubbock, Texas native.

"It's a very receptive audience; it's an audience where you can tell people are really listening, relaxing and having fun," said McWilliams.

The last stop on the bands tour was at FOB Fenty in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, to perform for Soldiers and Airmen on Dec. 25.

"It's good when you see people light up, when you see the smiles on their face, when you see their feet dancing... that's when we know we've done a good job," said McWilliams.

"I've been here almost nine months and haven't seen anything like this; it was great," said Spc. Ashraf Mohamed, 1st Special Operations Group, and Brooklyn, N.Y. native.

Another C-130J deployed the band to their next tour location, Bagram Airfield, Parwan Province. Arriving in the middle of the night and checking into transient billeting, the team caught a few hours of sleep before setting up for their next performance.

The visit included a live performance on Bagrams radio station to share holiday cheer with base work centers and generate publicity for four concerts and multiple live performances in Bagram work centers.

The bands primary mission is to lift the morale of deployed service members.

"Our Airmen and other coalition partners are working hard, they need a boost and I'm glad we've been able to do that," said Master Sgt. Toby McWilliams, the band guitarist and Lubbock, Texas native.

At Bagram, Systems Go played for service members attending a holiday barbecue.

"It's a very receptive audience; it's an audience where you can tell people are really listening, relaxing and having fun," said McWilliams.

The last stop on the bands tour was at FOB Fenty in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, to perform for Soldiers and Airmen on Dec. 25.

After 15 days of performing and traveling throughout Afghanistan, the band returned to Al Udeid Air Base,Qatar. Al Udeid serves as the main operating base for the band.

"It's good when you see people light up, when you see the smiles on their face, when you see their feet dancing... that's when we know we've done a good job," said McWilliams.



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