USAFE Band wins Air Force award

by Master Sgt. Michelle Harris
U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band

Lt. Col. Donald Schofield, USAFE Band commander, chats with a Ukrainian soldier after a performance in Zaparozia, Ukraine, Oct. 28, 2017. The tour serves to further increase cultural ties and enhance people-to-people relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine. — Photo by Capt. Elias Zani

“The U.S. Armed Forces have a secret weapon,” reported Monocle Magazine in a June 2017 article entitled ‘Louder than Bombs.’ It’s “a jazz band that knows how to take a nation by storm.”
After 364 performances through 29 countries in 2017, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band has won the Air Force’s most effective public affairs communication program award for providing Departments of Defense and State unique placement in hard-to-access information environments, such as Ukraine.
“Sharing a bond of trust despite language and cultural barriers is a powerful diplomatic tool that can last a lifetime,” said Lt. Col. Don Schofield, USAFE Band commander. “It is very rewarding to connect with people from many countries and offer them a taste of American culture. For many, the USAFE Band is their first contact with Americans. We pose for pictures with audience members after each performance in order to give personal contact. Band members also bring iconic American symbols such as signed baseballs and baseball cards to give away to kids as mementos.”
The Brig. Gen. Harry Dalton Award is presented to the Public Affairs organization that best advances Air Force priorities and achieves mission objectives through integrated research, planning, execution, and evaluation of communication capabilities during the year. This is a milestone for Air Force Public Affairs, as the selection of the USAFE Band represents the first time that an Air Force band has won the Dalton Award at the Headquarters Air Force level.
The USAFE Band’s live performances and media broadcasts reached more than 1.12 billion viewers internationally in 2017. The band integrated with U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, USAFE, and Air Forces Africa priorities to help further senior leader objectives. Highlights for the band included troop morale missions in Niger, network performances in Moldova, and performing alongside the Ukrainian military band during their internationally broadcast Independence Day celebration.
“Conducting the Ukrainian national anthem on live television during their celebration was one of the most cherished memories that I have,” said Schofield. “Being on the location in Kiev where the revolution started felt like sacred ground. It was not lost on me that the Ukrainian government asked an American to lead their national anthem on Independence Day. It was a graceful example of a diplomatic relationship between two countries built on commitment and trust.”
The USAFE Band tailors each performance to match the local cultural, political, and security climates,” said Capt. Justin Lewis, USAFE Band operations officer. “Its goal is to leverage commonalities between cultures and bring people together. It’s a fantastic opportunity to bring messages of peace and hope to so many people in a non-threatening way. From a planning perspective, it can be a real challenge. We may be in Botswana one week performing in villages hours from a military base, and the next week performing in Sweden alongside other military organizations from different countries. Having the correct country clearance documents, logistics, cultural understanding, and even language keeps us on our toes.”
USAFE Band performances in Europe and Africa generate positive coverage about American presence and partnership. Recent performances in seven Eastern Ukraine cities generated 215 pro-United States stories in the Ukrainian and Russian press and provided a 17 percent boost in pro U.S. social media in the Ukrainian cities that the band visited. The United States Ambassador to Serbia called the USAFE Band “the core of democracy” in response to the effects created by the performances that brought Serbian and United States senior leaders together.
What does 2018 hold for the USAFE Band? Schofield is excited about the possibilities. “2018 is the 100th anniversary for Baltic independence,” he said. “This is an excellent opportunity to stand beside our partners as they celebrate independence, as well as get out into their communities and help celebrate their freedom. 2018 is also the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, and the USAFE Band will travel throughout Germany helping celebrate this milestone of human cooperation.
I am proud of this team and their ability to help bring these diverse missions together,” said Master Sgt. Rebecca Collins, USAFE Band director of operations. “No matter where we send our Airmen, we leverage soft power to further the security objectives of USAFE and EUCOM.”