Band tunes up as command position returns to Japan
YOKOTA AIR BASE - As U.S. forces rebalance to the Pacific, one group of Air Force musicians looks to play its way to new levels of engagement throughout the world's largest region.
After a five-year absence, the command position for the U.S.A.F. Band of the Pacific has returned to Yokota Air Base, Japan--and with it, increased assets for building partnerships.
The decision to relocate the command position from Alaska to Japan reflects the U.S.'s commitment to developing strong relationships with nations throughout the region, said Capt. Haley Armstrong, U.S.A.F. Band of the Pacific commander.
The band's conductor, Armstrong is also its only officer--a fact, she noted, that makes her an asset to the band's engagement mission.
"From a partnership standpoint, it makes a difference to our international relationships that the officer and commander is able to accompany the unit for outreach missions," Armstrong said. "This is much more important here than Hawaii or Alaska because of the culture."
With the relocation of its commander came the relocation of many bandsmen themselves. This, in turn, allowed the band to expand its repertoire, adding a jazz ensemble and multiple small groups.
"Jazz music is very big in the Japanese and other Asian cultures," Armstrong said. "So getting this capability back has greatly increased our ability for partnership building in the region. Also, now that the unit is twice as big, we can double our missions, which support the realignment for the Pacific."
Armstrong, a longtime AF trumpet player and now conductor, assumed command of the Band of the Pacific at a less-than-typical ceremony in Mizuho Town, Japan, Nov. 10, 2012.
Whereas most assumption of command ceremonies are singular events, Armstrong's occurred as the second part of a three-stage, bilateral concert showcasing Japanese musicians from Mizuho, a town on the outskirts of Tokyo, alongside the U.S. jazz ensemble "Pacific Showcase." Rather than deliver remarks upon receiving command--the usual practice--Armstrong let music do the talking, grabbing her baton and leading the joint concert band in the musical selection "Candide."
The ceremony may have been a-typical, but it was no less special.
"We could think of no better way to share (the assumption of command) than with a ceremony including the Japanese towns surrounding Yokota," said Senior Master Sgt. Steven Fitts, U.S.A.F. Band of the Pacific-Asia manager and the event's narrator.
Bilateral ceremonies of this sort, in which musicians from different nations play side by side one another, are just one of a number of ways the band conducts outreach. Bandsmen travel regularly throughout the Pacific giving concerts of varying sizes and genres, while also contributing to the morale of U.S. forces.
Their music reaches people across the spectrum, Armstrong said--from average citizens to embassy members.
When asked about the effect that a band performance can have on its audience, its leader told a story.
"At our last concert, I actually had a woman come in tears because of this Japanese song that we did about a grandfather clock. She was so overwhelmed by emotion and the fact that this American group was performing the music that meant so much to her family and her life.
"I would love to do a study sometime where you videotape an audience going into a concert and an audience leaving a concert--especially in this culture, because their positive change in emotion just shows so much."
Many people are familiar with the U.S. rebalance to the Pacific, but few, perhaps, have considered the vital role that military bands play in that shift.
"If we really are posturing our forces and trying to restructure for the Pacific," said Armstrong, "I feel like the band is one of the best tools available to have a positive AF and American presence in this area, for very little expense."