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.”