USAFE-AFAFRICA Band Builds Partnership at Berlin Air Show

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Dan Heaton
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa

Standing under the wing of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft, Air Force trombone player Senior Airman Thomas Kelley and his bandmates in the Wings of Swing riffed through a version of the jazz standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Visitors during Industry Day at the Berlin Innovation & Leadership in Aerospace trade show and air show stopped, listened to a song or two, capturing a little video or a photo on their cell phone and then wandered over to the next aircraft on display.

“It is an opportunity to share a little bit about what the U.S. Air Force is, and what a partner we have in Germany,” Kelley said.

The band played at several events for the Berlin air show, June 5-9, including at the show’s public open house days, attended by thousands of visitors.

Kelley, a second-generation bandsman in the Air Force – his dad is a retired master sergeant who played the trumpet – is a member of the Wings of Swing, one of several combinations of musicians assigned to the band at U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa headquarters at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. From Ramstein, band groups ranging from a rock band to a woodwind quartet, a jazz band to a full orchestra, fan out across the two continents, playing at a wide range of venues, always sharing a love of music and building partnerships and relationships with local leaders and residents.

“My first trip with the USAFE band was to Moldova where we played for Ukrainian refugees,” Kelley said. “On that same trip, we played with the Moldova Philharmonic. We can perform outreach missions in multiple ways.”

That’s the mission of the Air Force’s band program, particularly for those bands based outside of the United States – to build and reinforce positive relations through a shared appreciation for music. Back home in the United States, the mission is similar, but the audience is different.

“When I was at Wright-Patterson (Air Force Base, Ohio), we played for a reunion of Vietnam veterans who had all served as helicopter pilots,” said Staff Sgt. Will Dellinger, who is now a tuba player with the USAFE-AFAFRICA’s Wings of Swing. “Everyone in that room had been shot at while wearing an American uniform and now, here they were, pumped up about seeing us. I was honored just to be allowed into the room with them.”

“It’s a love of music obviously, but it is also something a little bigger,” Dellinger said. “The impact that we are able to have, whether it is back home or overseas.”

On a recent trip, the Wings of Swing played at several events in Latvia as that nation marked its 25th anniversary of joining the NATO alliance. The band played several events near the Latvian border with Russia.

“We have the opportunity to experience the different culture, the different architecture that we see, but the real opportunity is to speak with the local people before or after a performance and let them know that the U.S. Air Force knows who they are and where they are,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Smith, a drummer with the Wings of Swing. “It is a real honor to be able to represent our country in this way.”