FT. INDIANTOWN GAP, PA --
From January through April of 2020, The Air National Guard Band of the Northeast deployed several members of the unit to the Middle East, to serve as the U.S. Air Forces Central Band. Stationed near Doha, Qatar, the AFCENT Band travels to countries all over the region for strategic and diplomatic outreach. The band performs for Ambassadors, Embassy functions, community concerts, school assemblies, military functions and ceremonies, and other social events – entertaining diverse audiences and representing the excellence found in the United States Air Force.
The ANG Band of the Northeast sent over eight airmen to the Middle East to serve as ambassadors of the United States Air Force and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Those deployed consisted of Technical Sergeant Amy Chicavich, vocalist, Airman First Class, Jonathan DeLise, vocalist, Senior Airman Alex Stewart, percussion, Technical Sergeant Andrew Minns, guitar, Master Sergeant Jeremy Buss, bass, Master Sergeant Clay Sattazahn, trombone, Master Sergeant Brian Stike, trumpet and sound, and Master Sergeant Rich Fitz, keyboard. We asked some of those deployed to recount some of their favorite moments and most memorable opportunities.
“The most memorable part of the whole deployment was meeting and performing for the United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and members of the Saudi Royal Family,” remarked MSgt Fitz, who also deployed with the ensemble in 2010. MSgt Stike remarked, “in what may be one of the most memorable performances of our lifetime, the AFCENT Band was honored to perform for Saudi and international audience members in Oud Square, Diplomatic Quarters, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Public concerts – and in particular, rock and roll concerts – are new to this part of the world, and we are proud to have been the first American ‘Rock and Roll’ band to have ever performed in Oud Square.”
Performing for diplomats was not the only high point in their deployment. The group also performed for many school-children and for our troops at several Air Bases throughout the Middle East. Entertaining their fellow airmen and soldiers was “an honor and a privilege,” said MSgt Fitz. “They came into the (concert) area looking stoic, but once they heard the music they started to relax, smile, and really enjoy themselves.” The band performed at many schools in the area as well, such as Sherborne Academy Preparatory, Sherborne Academy Music Clinic, the Vision International School and the Compass International School in Doha, to name a few. “The performances in Doha impressed me the most. Playing for the school children and watching their faces light up was just amazing,” said MSgt Fitz.
SrA Alex Stewart, one of the newer members of our unit, recounted some of his favorite activities and memories. “This was my first deployment and I absolutely loved it. My only problem with the experience is that it felt too short. Travel was frequent and exhausting, the quality of food was a broad spectrum ranging from 24 hours of food poisoning from old grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches, to the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had in my life, chased by being spoon-fed the best baklava I’ve ever tasted. Fitness wise, I was in peak shape at the end of deployment. This is thanks to my friend and advocate, TSgt Amy Chicavich. She always pushed us to get in the gym and get pumped, even after 10 hour travel days.”
“There are so many amazing people that I had the pleasure of meeting along the way. This is the most important thing I take away from the deployment: our relationship with others is at the core of everything we do as human beings, even in uniform. I loved getting to know so many different people that excelled in so many different things. Whether it was the guy in the Tabasco sauce apron that I bonded with over some tasty sauce despite a language barrier, a fellow drummer working at the embassy in Saudi Arabia, or a fellow airman from a different career field that enjoyed music and video games as much as I did. I am forever changed by my experiences with each and every one of them.”
“As far as the mission goes: I have a new perspective on military music programs. I was able to see first-hand the unique opportunities that musicians get to reach out to civilians from other nations. Sharing music with school students in particular was a great experience. This has definitely had a positive impact on these kids’ views of the United States of America and the freedoms we have.”
We are so thankful to be represented by our magnificent airman, and are even more grateful for their safe return home. Thank you for spreading unity and compassion to others worldwide through your professionalism, empathy, and musical aptitude. Aim High!