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The AFCENT Band is using music to touch hearts and soften boundaries

Members of the Air Forces Central Command Band pose for a photograph with Melinda Doolittle, an accomplished vocalist and top finisher on American Idol, following a practice session held at an outside venue in preparation for a concert at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

Members of the Air Forces Central Command Band pose for a photograph with Melinda Doolittle, an accomplished vocalist and top finisher on American Idol, following a practice session held at an outside venue in preparation for a concert at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Lewis, Officer in Charge and cellist assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, practices cello in preparation for a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Lewis, Officer in Charge and cellist assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, practices cello in preparation for a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Janus, keyboard player and saxophonist assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, practices saxophone in preparation for a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Janus, keyboard player and saxophonist assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, practices saxophone in preparation for a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Daniel McCoy, audio engineer assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, adjusts the sound board during a band practice held in preparation for a concert with Melinda Doolittle, background left, at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Daniel McCoy, audio engineer assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, adjusts the sound board during a band practice held in preparation for a concert with Melinda Doolittle, background left, at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Joshua Dick, drummer assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, practices drums in preparation for a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Joshua Dick, drummer assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, practices drums in preparation for a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 25, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Josiah Joyce, guitarist assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, right foreground, plays guitar along with the AFCENT Band during a concert with Melinda Doolittle, left, at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 26, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Josiah Joyce, guitarist assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, right foreground, plays guitar along with the AFCENT Band during a concert with Melinda Doolittle, left, at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 26, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Holdridge, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge and bassist assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, plays the base during a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 26, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Holdridge, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge and bassist assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, plays the base during a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 26, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Anneke Bentley, left foreground, and Staff Sgt. Denver Murphy, vocalists assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, sing during a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 26, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Anneke Bentley, left foreground, and Staff Sgt. Denver Murphy, vocalists assigned to the Air Force Central Command Band, sing during a concert at Al Udeid, Air Force Base, Qatar, May 26, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider/Released)

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --

If you get the opportunity to watch the Air Force Central Command Band in action, you need to do it. Their enthusiasm and passion for music is contagious. A sonic chicken soup washes over the crowd as they play; it flows off the stage and fills the room, curing the sick and wrapping everyone in a warm blanket. The type of music they play doesn’t matter as much as the beat, the rhythm, the sound waves that move through the room and soak into your body, demanding a reaction. For most watching, the band and the music they play personifies goodness. Music just makes you happy.

 

According to Melinda Doolittle, accomplished vocalist and top finisher on American Idol, “No matter what’s going on, it (music) just kind of suspends everything for a bit of time and brings some joy and levity to the situation and just lets people break out and have a great time.” Doolittle played with the AFCENT Band here at Al Udeid for a May 26th concert and noted about her experience, “The excellence that happens on stage is unparalleled.”

 

“It’s a highly desired job because people want to serve their country with their unique skills,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Justin Lewis, cellist and Officer in Charge of the U.S. AFCENT Band, when asked about being a band member. There is no technical training school for music in the U.S. Air Force; the musicians are selected through an audition process. According to Lewis, many AFCENT musicians come to the Air Force with masters degrees already in hand.

 

The transcendent quality of music, coupled with the excellence of the musicians that play it, is a powerful combination. Music has been used by the U.S. Air Force for decades as an effective diplomatic tool.

 

“Music as a whole provides that soft power, to be able to open doors culturally, especially in support of the United States’ ambassadors and the U.S. Embassies,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Matt Erickson, superintendent, AFCENT Band.

 

Lewis comes from a family of musicians and can personally attest to the power of music. His father, a trumpeter, and his mother, a vocalist, both served in the Air Force Band for twenty years. Lewis tells the story his mother passed on to him about the Cold War era when foreign ambassadors and their staff would visit the White House. President Ronald Reagan remarked that he observed the hearts of his guests soften after they heard Airmen performing songs from the guests' native lands. Music has the power to soften hearts and to bring people closer together.

 

“I love music because it’s universal…it just reaches people like nothing else can,” said Doolittle.

 

According to information from the band’s mission statement, the AFCENT band is the first permanently assigned Air Force Band to the Central Command Area of Responsibility and it is comprised of deployed Active Duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard band members. The band’s mission statement also states that the band performs a, “…wide variety of musical styles to appeal to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.”    

 

In a big way, the AFCENT Band is a part of the U.S. Air Force that can reach into the communities of host nations and, “show them that we are committed to the safety and security of the region,” in the words of Master Sgt. Erickson. In addition to holding concerts, the band provides outreach in other forms including holding workshops and school band sessions at local schools and communities across the AOR.

 

“We exemplify the excellence that is happening throughout the Air Force,” said Lewis. “The American public and foreign peoples can’t really be up in the tower or with the maintenance crew...but when they see airmen being excellent at music in public, they understand that it symbolizes the excellence that happens across our Air Force.”