From the Ukraine to the US on the same sheet of music

Story and photos by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Tech. Sgt. Igor Poklad is a musician. His grandparents were musicians. His parents were professional musicians. At this rate his children and his children’s children will be musicians.

Sergeant Poklad was born and raised in Odessa, Ukraine, where he graduated high school and continued his music education at the Odessa Conservatory of Music. When his uncle in California invited him to the U.S., Sergeant Poklad jumped at the chance to study at San Francisco State University’s music program.

“I was accepted and started school at the age of 18,” Sergeant Poklad said.

While taking classes at SFSU he met U.S. Air Forces members who would change the course of his life.

“These great people who were members of the Air Force would inspire me when I heard their stories,” Sergeant Poklad said. “I also witnessed their dedication and professionalism.”

Sergeant Poklad graduated with a bachelor’s in music performance and master’s in music history from SFSU. Remembering the conversations he had with Airmen he sat next to in class, Sergeant Poklad decided to join the Air Force in 1997 and audition for the Air Force Band. He was accepted.

“The Air Force has totally supported me in everything,” said the happily married, father of a 6-year-old son. “Your responsibility is a lot higher as an AF member as opposed to a civilian musician, but it makes you better.”

Since that time, Sergeant Poklad has traveled the U.S. and the world entertaining troops and aiding in building partnerships with allied nations. In 2008, Sergeant Poklad got the opportunity to return to Europe when he received an assignment to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band at Sembach Air Base.

Shortly after his arrival, Sergeant Poklad was afforded the opportunity to make history. He would be a member of the first USAFE Band to ever be sent to his home country.

Along with performing with the USAFE Jazz Band in his home town of Odessa, Sergeant Poklad visited and had a question and answer session with students of his former alma mater, with his old teachers in attendance.

“It was amazing. My relatives, friends and teachers were all in the audience,” Sergeant Poklad said. “I was the one announcing the concert (in Ukrainian). I also played a solo during the performance, in an AF uniform, which they had never seen before.”

Today, Sergeant Poklad continues making music as a clarinetist and bass clarinetist with the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band. He is an integral ingredient in the clarinet quartet, concert band, and in the ceremonial/marching band.

Recently, he accompanied the USAFE Concert Band on its first tour in more than a year. The band visited three countries and performed at seven venues during the nine-day tour, building partnerships and reaching out to local communities along the way.

This wasn’t the first time Sergeant Poklad had traveled Europe with his unit, but his life’s journey offers a unique perspective on these outreach efforts.

“I am pretty ‘Americanized’ in many ways,” Sergeant Poklad said. “But I still feel very much at home in Europe, especially when we travel to Central and Eastern European countries. I seem to have a unique bond with different people because of my background and knowledge of their traditions and culture.”

Sergeant Poklad is very happy he joined the Air Force and plans to continue having the time of his life, he said.

From the Ukraine, to the U.S. and back to Europe, you never know where you may hear or see Sergeant Poklad next.