AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
Six Airmen are gathered in a room; darkness encompassing the walls, cords snake on the ground reaching tall, thin silver cylindrical stands. One paces back and forth, another hastily taps their heel on the ground. Suddenly the floor starts to elevate. As the floor reaches higher, the pacing stops, one Airman grasps a stick and raises it into the air. Another whips the cord away from the stand it once rested on. Hearts start to flutter as adrenaline rushes through their bodies. As their heads reach the top, smoke begins to fill the room, a loud bang from a drum is heard and the rest follow suit with their tools of the trade, greeted by the roar of the audience waiting for them.
This was the final day’s performance for the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Band during the Discover America Tour. The AFCENT Band performed for more than 500 Qataris’ that day at the Mall of Qatar, one of the host nation’s largest shopping centers.
The AFCENT Band is the only deployed band in the United States Air Force, covering 17 of the 20 countries in the area of responsibility. Some places are so remote that the locals have never experienced live music.
Capt. Dustin Doyle, AFCENT Band officer in charge, is the orchestrator for this one-of-a-kind band. His duty: promote and educate the band’s mission and coordinate with local officials and embassies to find venues for the band to perform.
“Our mission is to assist the AFCENT commander create positive ways for our two cultures to engage and develop relationships on behalf of the U.S. Air Force and the United States of America,” said Doyle. “We can become the tip of the spear, using soft power, to engage with music. This allows us to enhance U.S. Central Command’s theater security cooperation efforts and ultimately provides the band with more future engagements.”
With performances ranging from playing for dignitaries to children and community elders, these expert musicians take each performance seriously. The number of gigs the AFCENT Band plays within their 3-month tour rivals what the state side Air Force bands would play in a whole year.
“On average, the AFCENT Band performs 45 times during their 3-month tour; roughly a concert every-other-day,” said Doyle. “This mission has a very high operations tempo compared to bands in the states. We seldom practice because, just like every other job in the Air Force, once your boots hit the ground we are tasking you to perform.”
The multitude of performances couldn’t happen without the thousands of pounds of music equipment which needs to be packed specifically for each concert. However, unlike back home, these Airmen Musicians move virtually everything themselves.
“We have over 5,000 lbs of equipment we have to lug to each performance,” said, Master Sgt. Christopher Stahl, AFCENT band superintendent. “We load them onto custom built pallets, built to specifications noted by the airframe’s loadmasters, for every trip we take. Once we land, we: unload, set up, break down and pack up everything for the next gig. Compared to the states, it’s the same process except with less people, rehearsal and prep time and rest between performances.”
The U.S. Air Force has used music for decades as an effective diplomatic tool. Music, in and of itself, has an innate quality to exist without language barriers and bring people together despite vast differences.
“Back in 2013, we had several gigs in an area in Kyrgyzstan where a large portion of the population was illiterate,” said Doyle. “We worked with the U.S. Embassy to engage with several small villages and inform them about their culture and heritage and share U.S. culture and heritage through music and picture handouts. Even with the language barrier, we used music as a unique way to bridge cultures and develop relationships in an otherwise tough environment.”
“I’m proud of what we do and I’m humbled to work with musicians and Airmen of such quality on so many levels,” said Doyle. “We go to places with people who have never seen or interacted with Americans and we leave lasting impressions of that they think about the U.S. Air Force. Not only that, we also represent the professionalism of our Airmen. It’s humbling to be entrusted with such a high honor.”