JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. --
Despite COVID-19, deployments for the members of the Air Force Band career field continue, and remain an essential and crucial mission for its members and for those they serve. The U.S. Air Forces Central Command Band, or AFCENT Band, is based out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and consists of deployed musicians from all active duty Air Force Bands, and also the Reserve and Air National Guard bands. Members rotate in and out of the AFCENT Band and are assigned to the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, which consists of 20 countries.
From late 2019 to early 2020, six members of the U.S. Air Force Band served on a deployment with the AFCENT Band as an ensemble entitled, Supersonic, traveling to eight different countries in three months. One member, Senior Master Sgt. Matt Nudell, was assigned as the AFCENT Band’s Tour Operations Superintendent for approximately 200 days.
The AFCENT Band serves to strengthen morale, promote outreach and cement international relationships with the communities of host nations. The Band performs a wide variety of musical styles, which are dependent on the personnel assigned, in order to appeal to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
There are two main missions of the AFCENT Band. Senior Master Sgt. Nudell explains, “First, it provides support for the morale and welfare of American and Coalition forces, by giving concerts large and small at installations across the Central Command Area of Responsibility. Second, it provides outreach to host and partner nations in the region, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, through public concerts and support for high-level diplomatic events. The AFCENT Band is perhaps the most important mission of the Air Force Bands program. We seek to build connections with the people and governments in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. It is a public relations tool that can open doors, build bridges, and give a positive impression of the Air Force and the United States.”
Technical Sgt. Daniel Dowling, a percussionist in the U.S. Air Force Band and a member of Supersonic, views his recent deployment as an acknowledged and accepted part of his duties. He states, “As a rhythm section player in the Air Force Band career field, I tend to view the deployment mission as a built-in part of my job. That being said, I was very excited to be selected for my first deployment, and am now grateful for the perspectives and experiences I have gained. I’m looking forward to the next one!”
For Sgt. Dowling, deploying with Supersonic also held a deeper and more profound meaning. He explains, “The AFCENT Band is important because music, art, and culture are important. These seemingly simple things tie people and places together in quite complex ways. We often say that music is a “universal language,” and I truly believe this to be the case. The band is able to bring people together in public places, break down cultural barriers, and interact with the local population, all the while wearing an Air Force uniform and representing the United States. We entertain service members who may be in a need of a brief mental break, a relaxing moment, or a reminder of their home and what they are fighting for.”
Traveling to so many unfamiliar countries in a short amount of time can bring numerous unique and memorable experiences for the deployed members. Sgt. Nudell divulges, “We had the opportunity to provide a big group of Marines to dance and let loose at an undisclosed location. I also went on a night helicopter ride over Baghdad. It was so amazing to watch the people of Qatar and Oman clap their hands, dance, and sing a little to the music, despite their reserved manner.”
Interestingly enough, Sgt. Nudell and Sgt. Dowling share the same favorite memorable experience. Sgt. Dowling explains, “My most favorite was our visit to the Saudi Arabia Society for Culture and Arts in Jeddah. Upon arriving, we were greeted with an absolutely astonishing display of hospitality in the form song, dance, drumming, and cheering. The society leaders treated us to tea and cookies and taught us about their culture and traditions. We toured a gallery of art done exclusively by local female artists, and had the opportunity to meet them. Finally, we were treated to a show of music, song, and dance numbers performed by kids and adults alike. It was an amazing evening that helped everyone to see that the perhaps maybe the world is not such a big place, and we all may be a little more connected than we think.”
Sgt. Nudell adds, “That event was a fascinating glimpse into a culture and society that is struggling to balance heritage while assimilating into the broader world.”
For Sgt. Nudell, it was a tremendous honor to be chosen to deploy as Operations Superintendent. He states, “A majority of the musicians in the U.S. Air Force Bands will not get the opportunity to deploy. I enjoyed getting to meet people from all over the world, getting to interact with troops, both American and Coalition partners, and to learn about them and the work they are doing was incredibly interesting and rewarding. I was proud to be trusted with the mission, a little apprehensive about the unfamiliarity of the work, and anxious to be away from my family for so long. However, looking back now, I have no doubt that it will be the highlight of my career.”
For more information on the AFCENT Band, please visit https://www.afcent.af.mil