AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- Their enthusiasm and passion for music is contagious.
Their sound is sonic chicken soup for the soul, filling the room and curing the sick with its warmth. For most watching and listening, the band and the music they play represent wholesome goodness.
“I love music because it’s universal…it just reaches people like nothing else can,” said Melinda Doolittle, an 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 recently 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 a competitive audition process. According to Lewis, many AFCENT musicians come to the Air Force with master's degrees already in hand.
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. President Ronald Reagan once 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.
The transcendent quality of music, coupled with the excellence of the musicians that play it, is a powerful combination. Music has been used as an effective diplomatic tool by the U.S. Air Force for decades.
“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, the AFCENT Band superintendent.
The AFCENT band is the first permanently assigned Air Force Band to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and comprises 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, Erickson said. In addition to holding concerts, the band provides outreach in other forms including workshops and school band sessions at local schools and communities across the region.
“We exemplify the excellence that is happening throughout the Air Force,” Lewis said. “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.”
For more information, visit the official AFCENT Band website.