JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. --
In the United States, October 26 is nationally recognized as the Day of the Deployed. It is a day where we recognize the service of deployed military personnel serving around the world and the sacrifice made by the deployed members’ families. It was also around this time, October 22, that seven members of The U.S. Air Force Band’s Max Impact and Singing Sergeants returned from a four-month deployment overseas.
The members included bassist Master Sgt. Mike Wittrien, vocalist Technical Sgt. Samuel Allen, percussionist Technical Sgt. Daniel Dowling, sound engineer Technical Sgt. Nathan Martin, guitarist Technical Sgt. Andrew Mowatt, vocalist Technical Sgt. Nadia Sosnoski, and keyboardist Technical Sgt. Aaron Trasatt.
These seven members served as the U.S. Air Force Central Command Band, or AFCENT Band, which is based out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The band consists of deployed musicians from all active-duty Air Force Bands, plus members from 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 (AOR), which consists of 21 countries. On this particular deployment, the band traveled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Bahrain.
Another member of The U.S. Air Force Band, Senior Master Sgt. Grant Langford, is currently serving a 180-day deployment as the AFCENT Band’s superintendent and will return within two months.
There are two main missions of the AFCENT Band. First of all, it provides support for the morale and welfare of American and coalition forces by presenting concerts at installations across the AOR. Secondly, it provides outreach opportunities 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 band seeks to build connections with the people and governments in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. It is an effective public relations tool that can build bridges and give a positive impression of the U.S. Air Force and the United States.
The AFCENT Band performs a wide variety of musical styles in order to appeal to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. On this particular deployment, the band performed hits mainly from the pop, county and rock genres, lifting troop morale during base events and engaging with the local communities. The band also performed jazz music at a number of embassies, and even had the opportunity to perform some polka music for an Oktoberfest event in Bahrain!
In addition to the AFCENT Band’s primary missions, opportunities arise for unique projects and collaborations. One of these collaborations took part with the Musical Affairs Center at the Ministry of Culture and Sports housed in the Qatar National Library. The AFCENT Band was assigned to work with His Excellency, the Minister of Culture and Sports on an original music recording project, entitled “Pause,” which was written by the U.S. Air Force Academy Band’s Technical Sgt. Craig Larimer. The band recorded “Pause” at the world-renowned Katara Studios with Grammy award-winning engineer, Matt Howe.
This song will be featured as part of Qatar’s year-long event, entitled “Year of Culture,” celebrating the United States in 2021. The Year of Culture builds upon our strong bilateral relationship by promoting cultural exchanges and people-to-people connections between the United States and the State of Qatar. The U.S. Embassy and museums in Qatar will encourage shared ideals of tolerance and diversity through a robust calendar of events.
Furthermore, the band expanded their capabilities and learned a song in Arabic to perform with local musicians in Doha, Qatar. Technical Sgt. Andrew Mowatt explains, “We also had the opportunity to collaborate and record a live performance with a traditional band from the Qatar and Saudi region. Their approach to rhythm and use of foreign instruments was inspiring to hear, see and integrate into each other’s music.”
Deployed members are trained to be flexible and expect the unexpected. When the Taliban regained control of the country in August of 2021, thousands of Afghans fled the country. The U.S. Air Force initiated the Afghanistan airlift, entitled “Operation Afghan Rescue.” The AFCENT Band was then assigned to perform for refugees of all ages while they were transitioning between countries or bases.
This unexpected mission impacted Sgt. Mowatt greatly. He states, “The most unique event while being deployed was definitely witnessing firsthand the Air Force’s amazing and swift work on the Afghan airlift at Al Udeid Air Base. The Moral, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) functions for the troops on base immediately shut down, and all efforts were focused directly on transporting, processing, housing and feeding the more than 124,000 refugees in just a few weeks. It was great to see the sacrifices everyone was making to execute such a monumental task. The Air Force is capable of unbelievable things, and it was an honor to be a part of all the amazing missions on this deployment.”
Technical Sgt. Allen concurs, “I think the most impactful situation was working with the Afghan evacuees. We all volunteered our free time in order to help them. Seeing how grateful they were for any help we could give made me appreciate what the U.S. Air Force does each and every day. Honestly I think just being a small part of Operation Allies Refuge is something that we all are incredibly proud of.”
With so many unique and amazing experiences, it would be difficult for a deployed member to pinpoint the most impactful aspect of a deployment. For Sgt. Mowatt, it was being able to travel to new places. He explains, “My favorite part of deployment was getting to travel to new places and meet local people. Music is a universal language, and it broke down any language barrier we encountered. It was a pleasure to use music as a ‘soft power’ to make lasting connections with cultures so far away from home.”
For Sgt. Allen, it was the troops. He illustrates, “My favorite part of deployment was performing for the amazing, hard-working men and women in the deployed environments. Being able to bring them a small sense of home and peace, in an environment where that can sometimes be sparse, is incredibly rewarding and vitally important.”
With over 7,000 known languages around the world, music truly serves as the universal language. Sgt. Mowatt recognizes the emotional impact music elicits and the bridges it can build. He states, “The most impactful part of performing and traveling with the AFCENT Band was meeting people through our musical mission. The music allowed us to realize how much we have in common, despite such different histories and languages. Our differences seemed to inspire instead of divide.”
The U.S Air Force Band thanks the members of the AFCENT Band for their dedication, service and sacrifice, and for bringing unity, comfort and peace to our world. Welcome home and congratulations on a successful deployment! Mission accomplished!