Minsk, BELARUS --
The U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band has always been a premier asset for building enduring relationships throughout Europe and Africa, but in the past two years, they’ve been opening doors that have been closed for years.
At the invitation of the Belarus government and the U.S. Embassy-Minsk, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band delivered their second performance in Belarus June 17-22. The 2015 trip to Belarus was the first time in 10 years that a U.S. military band was allowed to play in the country.
While there, the 13 bandsmen performed at “Jazz Saturdays at the Town Hall” in Minsk and other events in surrounding communities continue to build long-lasting people-to-people friendships.
Their visit turned out to be the largest open-air concert ever given by Americans in Belarus.
“Playing at the jazz fest in the center of Minsk was amazing,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Whitt, a USAFE Band bass player. “The energy we felt from the crowd was rewarding. They initially estimated eight thousand people, be we found out later that it was more than 12 thousand people there.”
The trip also helped the bandsmen better understand the people and history of Belarus. They visited places like Buinichi Field, the Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War, and the Khatyn Memorial.
“I’m thankful to have been able to return and play here a second time,” Whitt said. “The embassy helped us with some great cultural exchange events by not only inviting us back to play, but also to see some impressive memorials and helping us get a better understanding of the history here.”
“When we went to the Khatyn Memorial, it was a great experience, as it was also humbling to know of the history behind the site,” said Lt. Col. Michael Mench, USAFE Band commander.
The bandsmen were at the memorial to pay tribute to the 149 lives lost, of which 75 were children, on March 22, 1943 during the Great Patriotic War.
“Before we reached the statue, we met some men that had fought for the Soviet Union during WWII,” said Mench. “They told us stories of their past and telling us about the friendships they made with their allies, the Americans.”
“As they said their goodbyes and walked away, I heard one of them say, ‘I’m very thankful for them. Music has always united us’,” according to Mench.
“To be able to come back to Belarus and find out that the people we met last time remember us was overwhelming,” said Mench. “Playing here again and visiting with the people proves that the friendships we make will endure. We will always share a unique bond that reflects our past alliances and builds upon our future partnership.”
At the end of the visit Scott Rauland, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires to Belarus, thanked the band for visiting and playing so many concerts for the people of Belarus.
“I’m really happy you've been here and to make these lasting relationships, he said. “We hope to have you all back soon.”