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The Commanders Jazz Ensemble Inspires Patriotism in Nevada and Arizona

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Michael Roe
  • Band of the Golden West

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - When Glenn Miller left behind civilian fame and fortune to join the American war effort in 1942, he began a legacy of modernized military music that continues to this day. Miller’s efforts in the Army Air Corps were critical to the entertainment and morale of Allied troops, as well as being instrumental in the counter-propaganda campaigns to denounce fascist oppression in Europe.

Today, the U.S. Air Force Bands continue Major Miller’s legacy by performing both at home and abroad. After a performance by The Commanders Jazz Ensemble in Sun City, Arizona, on February 28th, an elderly man approached Master Sgt. Ricky Sweum, the band’s Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, introducing himself as a WWII veteran who was 96 years old. The veteran thanked Sgt. Sweum for his service and for keeping the tradition of Glenn Miller alive. The man then stated that while overseas during the war, he saw Miller’s band play, and that he has a photograph of himself with the famed band leader. The veteran repeatedly expressed the importance of keeping our American heritage alive with our jazz ensemble.

The Commanders Jazz Ensemble, part of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West, recently completed an 11-day tour through Nevada and Arizona. The 18-member big band used their performances to honor, inspire, and connect with thousands of audience members in nine performance venues, ranging from high school auditoriums to state-of-the-art performance halls.

The Commanders’ performances serve in part to connect civilians to the military. By using the common language of music, Airmen musicians are able to advocate for the Air Force at-large and create lasting relationships within communities.

“Thanks for helping me feel more connected to my son, a Senior Master Sgt. currently deployed in the Middle East. Thanks for sharing your talents with us this afternoon and for your dedication and service,” said Michelle Ward, audience member in Sun City, Arizona.

Members of the band also had the opportunity to connect with local high school students in the Arizona communities of Safford and Lake Havasu City. The Band of the Golden West believes strongly in promoting the STEAM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in schools, and by providing outreach to local students, the band is able to inspire young minds and educate students about potential opportunities that the Air Force can provide.

 “As an elementary school librarian at a STEM school who grew up loving the arts, I love that you are all about STEAM. We too often forget about how important the arts are for student’s creativity. Much of music is math, after all,” said Michalia Gerlach, a Mesa, Arizona concert audience member.

Honoring those who have served is a large part of The Commanders’ mission. After one concert, a married couple approached Sweum, introducing themselves as retired Air Force. During the brief conversation, the man poignantly paused while tears flowed from his eyes. He then expressed, “I feel so ‘re-blued’ after this concert. I’m incredibly proud to be retired Air Force.” After another concert, a man wearing a USAF Retired pin remarked, “You make me so proud to be retired Air Force.”