Celtic Aire Returns Home
Members of Celtic Aire meet with Lieutenant General John R. Allen, Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command, after a performance. Members of Celtic Aire include (left to right) Senior Master Sgt. Deb Volker, Technical Sgts. Emily Lewis, Julia Brundage and Joe Haughton, and Master Sgt. Eric Sullivan. The deployment was part of the mission of the U.S. Air Forces Central Expeditionary Band. Based in Southwest Asia, the Band is comprised of deployed Airmen from Active Duty, Reserve and Air National Guard bands. The Band rotates several ensembles through the region that perform a wide variety of musical styles to appeal to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
by Master Sgt. Brian McCurdy
The USAF Band
4/30/2010 - BOLLING AFB, D.C. -- After a 60-day tour of Central and Southwest Asia, members of Celtic Aire have returned home safely. Their travels took them through Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.
Senior Master Sgt. Deb Volker, the Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge of Celtic Aire, was awestruck by the entire experience.
"All the shows were great, and meeting our deployed troops was always an amazing experience," she said. "It meant a lot for us to hear their stories, and to know that many of them have been away from home and their loved ones for sometimes up to a year. We tried to bring them a little bit of home and break up their day-to-day routine."
Travel could be a challenge, but the group's morale always stayed high. They had a three-day layover in Afghanistan while trying to get to Kyrgyzstan. During that time, they made some good friends with a group of Marines who were also trying to get to Kyrgyzstan and ultimately home to the states.
There were many rewarding moments for Celtic Aire during their deployment. One such experience came from a local performance in Tamga Village in Kyrgyzstan. The hall was at full capacity, consisting of mostly children. Technical Sgt. Joe Haughton, guitarist and vocalist for Celtic Aire, researched Kyrgyz music and found a folk song on the internet. He created an arrangement of it for the group, and the audience erupted into a thunderous ovation.
Master Sgt. Eric Sullivan, vocalist and bass guitarist for the group, had given the idea of deploying overseas some serious thought over his career.
"I've been wanting to do this for 10 years," he said. "When I came into the Air Force, I thought this was an important part of the job. But, it seemed to me that singers aren't very viable over here, so I didn't know if I'd ever have a chance to deploy."
For Technical Sgt. Emily Lewis, violinist and vocalist for Celtic Aire, one of her most memorable experiences occurred in an unlikely place.
"For me, it was playing at Joint Base Balad's Hospital Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility, where people from any service who had been injured were waiting to be sent home," she said. "We played the Hero's Lounge, and there were messages written on the walls there--a lot of "thank yous" to the nurses and staff who took care of them...and some were memorials.
"Early in the morning, while they were eating breakfast, we walked in and started singing some peaceful music. They all seemed so calm and really grateful to have us there. One guy sitting on the couch, who was probably in his early 20's, sat and stared. His eyes were lit up, watching and listening, and he smiled on occasion. It felt like he was really moved by the performance."
Technical Sgt. Julia Brundage, vocalist and founding member of Celtic Aire, always kept things in perspective.
"About 95 percent of our performances back in the states are for the civilian public, not for the military. Coming here gives us a good chance to serve our country in a different way than we do in the U.S., and it gives us a chance to bear witness to what our fellow service members are doing here."
Master Sgt. Mark Hannah served as the audio engineer for Celtic Aire. He found the experience challenging, but rewarding.
"It was really great to work with five wonderful musicians in a smaller setting, as opposed to the larger ensembles that I normally work with," he said. "If people don't realize that I am there, then I've done my job well."
The deployment is part of the mission of the U.S. Air Forces Central Expeditionary Band. Based in Southwest Asia, the band is comprised of deployed Airmen from Active Duty, Reserve and Air National Guard bands. The band rotates several ensembles through the region that perform a wide variety of musical styles to appeal to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
Perhaps a true measure of Celtic Aire's reach came from Captain Lena Galaktionova, an officer in the Kyrgyz police academy.
"They were super," she said. "It was a very good performance. I have only seen Irish music in movies."