February 20, 2018
Written by Major Tristan Hinderliter,
U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs
Photo by Maj. Tristan Hinderliter
Pristina, Kosovo -- The U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band returned Feb. 19 from a six-day trip to Kosovo to celebrate the country’s 10th anniversary of independence, capping a whirlwind trip that included building partnerships with the Kosovo Security Forces and outreach events across the country.
Kosovo, a country of 1.8 million in the Balkans, declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 as the Republic of Kosovo. It has always enjoyed warm diplomatic relations with the U.S., and the USAFE Band embarked on this trip at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy in Pristina.
“It was an honor for us to come to Kosovo to celebrate this milestone,” said Lt. Col. Don Schofield, USAFE Band commander. “We met some fantastic people, we made a lot of great connections and overall I think it was a really successful visit.”
For Schofield, the trip was about using music to build partnerships and friendships across cultures. Part of how they do that is to integrate with local musicians – both military and civilian.
On Thursday the band visited the headquarters of the Kosovo Security Forces and sat for a performance alongside their counterparts in the KSF Band. Even though the musicians had never met and didn’t speak the same language, they were able to communicate through music.
“One of my favorite parts of this job is having the opportunity to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Cockerham, keyboardist, vocalist and the band’s musical director.
“We were able to sit down with the KSF Band and have a really fun musical conversation that included improvisation and musical cooperation, and I think it’s a great analogy for what we do as musicians in bringing cultures together and building relationships,” he said. “It’s really astounding, and I’m really honored to be part of it.”
On Feb. 18 in Prizren, the band brought onstage Kosovar musicians Denisa Sadiku, a vocalist who excelled on the the show “The Voice Albania,” and Anda Gjini, a flute player in her final semester studying music at the University of Pristina.
“The band was so wonderful,” said Gjini, a native of Prizren who was in town celebrating independence day with her family. “They were so friendly, and they made me feel like I had been playing with them for years, even though this was the first time I met them. I’m really thankful to be able to have this experience.”
On Friday evening, the band performed at Red Hall in Pristina, an event hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, and broadcast live on Radio Television of Kosovo, the most-viewed television station in the country. The audience included diplomats, members of the KSF and dozens of young Kosovars invited by the embassy.
Other events included a show in Peja, in far western Kosovo, a live appearance on the RTK morning show, and a performance at an outdoor stage downtown Pristina in celebration of the country’s independence anniversary.
While in Kosovo, the band shared some American culture with Kosovo Force, the NATO organization known as “KFOR,” at Camp Film City and Camp Bondsteel. At Camp Bondsteel, they were joined onstage by the commander of Multinational Battle Group-East, Col. Michael Spraggins, on trumpet, and U.S. Army Soldiers on tambourine and cow bell.
The mission of KFOR, which has been in the country since the end of the Kosovo War in 1999, is to maintain a safe and secure environment. Several hundred U.S. troops, mostly at Camp Bondsteel, work side-by-side with their NATO allies and partners to carry out that mission.
“We travel to different countries, and even though we give a piece of ourselves, we also try to take some of that country with us as well,” Schofield said. “It’s about memories, and a better understanding culturally – I think that’s the thing that I personally take away.”
February 8, 2018
Written by MSgt Michele Harris
U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band
Photo by Capt. Elias Zani
“The U.S. Armed Forces have a secret weapon,” reported Monocle Magazine in a June 2017 article entitled ‘Louder than Bombs.’ It’s “a jazz band that knows how to take a nation by storm.”
After 364 performances through 29 countries in 2017, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band has won the Air Force’s most effective public affairs communication program award for providing Departments of Defense and State unique placement in hard-to-access information environments, such as Ukraine.
“Sharing a bond of trust despite language and cultural barriers is a powerful diplomatic tool that can last a lifetime,” said Lieutenant Colonel Don Schofield, the USAFE Band’s commander. “It is very rewarding to connect with people from many countries and offer them a taste of American culture. For many, the USAFE Band is their first contact with Americans. We pose for pictures with audience members after each performance in order to give personal contact. Band members also bring iconic American symbols such as signed baseballs and baseball cards to give away to kids as mementos.”
The Brigadier General Harry Dalton Award is presented to the Public Affairs organization that best advances Air Force priorities and achieves mission objectives through integrated research, planning, execution, and evaluation of communication capabilities during the year. This is a milestone for Air Force Public Affairs, as the selection of the USAFE Band represents the first time that an Air Force band has won the Dalton Award at the Headquarters Air Force level.
The USAFE Band’s live performances and media broadcasts reached more than 1.12 billion viewers internationally in 2017. The band integrated with EUCOM, AFRICOM, USAFE, and AFAFRICA priorities to help further senior leader objectives. Highlights for the band included troop morale missions in Niger, network performances in Moldova, and performing alongside the Ukrainian military band during their internationally broadcast Independence Day celebration.
“Conducting the Ukrainian national anthem on live television during their celebration was one of the most cherished memories that I have,” said Lt Col Schofield. “Being on the location in Kiev where the revolution started felt like sacred ground. It was not lost on me that the Ukrainian government asked an American to lead their national anthem on Independence Day. It was a graceful example of a diplomatic relationship between two countries built on commitment and trust.”
The USAFE Band tailors each performance to match the local cultural, political, and security climates. Its goal is to leverage commonalities between cultures and bring people together. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to bring messages of peace and hope to so many people in a non-threatening way,” said Captain Justin Lewis, Operations Officer for the USAFE Band. “From a planning perspective, it can be a real challenge. We may be in Botswana one week performing in villages hours from a military base, and the next week performing in Sweden alongside other military organizations from different countries. Having the correct country clearance documents, logistics, cultural understanding, and even language keeps us on our toes.”
USAFE Band performances in Europe and Africa can generate positive coverage about American presence and partnership. Recent performances in seven Eastern Ukraine cities generated 215 pro-United States stories in the Ukrainian and Russian press and provided a 17% boost in pro-U.S. social media in the Ukrainian cities that the band visited. The United States Ambassador to Serbia called the USAFE Band “the core of democracy” in response to the effects created by the performances that brought Serbian and United States senior leaders together.
What does 2018 hold for the USAFE Band? Lt Col Schofield is excited about the possibilities. “2018 is the 100th anniversary for Baltic independence,” he said. “This is an excellent opportunity to stand beside our partners as they celebrate independence, as well as get out into their communities and help celebrate their freedom.” 2018 is also the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, and the USAFE Band will travel throughout Germany helping celebrate this milestone of human cooperation. “I am proud of this team and their ability to help bring these diverse missions together,” said Master Sergeant Rebecca Collins, Director of Operations for the USAFE Band. “No matter where we send our airmen, we leverage soft power to further the security objectives of USAFE and EUCOM.”