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Langley Airmen share 'Full Spectrum' experience across nations

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Katie Gar Ward
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
A group of U.S. Airmen recently returned from performing a mission to educate, enrich and inspire the lives of not only fellow Service members, but also millions of international community members in Southwest Asia and the Middle East.

But instead of carrying weapons, these Airmen carried instruments.

The group was part of the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band's high-energy ensemble known as "Full Spectrum," based at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.  Now home after its 110-day deployment, members of Full Spectrum reflect on their mission of bridging cultures through the universal language of music.

Full Spectrum was created in 2013 to support U.S. and coalition forces deployed to Southwest Asia.  On its most recent deployment, Full Spectrum broke new ground in various regions through its community outreach efforts, and was even featured alongside comedian Conan O'Brien during his deployment tour with first lady Michelle Obama.

According to U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Bennett Weidemann, Full Spectrum noncommissioned officer in charge and drummer, the band's deployed mission goes beyond entertainment for Service members by also touching the lives of the international community.

"We played roles as ambassadors for the United States, not just the Air Force," he said.  "To be able to share these [musical] experiences is a once in a lifetime thing.  The relationships that it builds and positive energy that it brings to what's going on over there can't be replaced or recreated."

Many of the band's outreach efforts entailed visits to local schools, which included performances, question and answer sessions and "master classes," where band members had the opportunity to mentor student musicians.

Weidemann said one of his most memorable experiences took place during a school performance in Kuwait City, where approximately 250 children were singing along to American pop music.

"We were floored [that] they knew all the words to all the songs. They were so loud I couldn't hear my own instrument because it was just a wall of sound," he said.  "[That's when] you know that you are doing the right things and bringing the right message. What a tremendous feeling that is for all of us on stage to be able to experience that and share that with [the children].  It's something I think only a military band can really create because music is a universal language -- something that everybody knows."

Staff Sgt. Jordan Kimble, Full Spectrum's bass guitarist, said the most enjoyable aspects of the band's mission was providing support to other deployed Service members during visits to various military installations.

"Music was just a small part.  Most of it was the human interaction, but the music opens the door," said Kimble. "When people get to share their life, they open up and release some of that burden onto you, and we'll gladly take it.  Music is what connects us to everyone and what opens the door to have those relationships."

During their time in Kuwait, Full Spectrum also participated in the "Discover America" program, a two-week event sponsored by the U.S. Embassy that showcases American culture, ranging from food, to entertainment, to travel.

The band's role in the event included several performances at malls, on local radio stations and in local televisions shows.  What started as a few small performance ideas grew into one of the most dynamic events for the embassy in years, said Weidemann.

"Once the word got out on social media that there was a live American band in Kuwait, we didn't sleep much for the next 10 days," he said.  "It was like we were the 'Kuwaiti Beatles.'"

The band was also featured on a Kuwaiti late-night show, which was the first time in the region American music was aired on live television.

"There's no live music in Kuwait, so it almost makes you giddy because it was so fun and exciting," said Weidemann.  "We were able to build bridges and partnerships on behalf of the embassy, the ambassador and the state department.  That isn't something that usually happens, and an Air Force band was the one who was able to make that happen."

Kimble said the scope of the band's efforts during "Discover America" became clear after a conversation with the U.S. ambassador.

"At the end of all of our gigs, [the ambassador] came up to us and said, 'In the 30 years I've been working in the embassy, I've never seen a group bridge as many cultural gaps as you did this past week. The impact you had was amazing,'" said Kimble.  "It spoke volumes [about] our band, but more so to what music in general can do, how music and American music can bridge cultural barriers."

While often thought of as just black notes across white pages, for Full Spectrum and other modern military bands, music can bring cultures into a brilliant chorus, using words that transcend all languages and creating harmonies that unite all voices.

Full Spectrum's performance with Conan O'Brien is scheduled to air on Jan. 25 at 11 p.m. on TBS.