News Search

High Altitude on key down range

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Claire Behney
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing
Armed with guitar picks, drumsticks and microphones is a different way to see Airmen touring through the desert. But for the Airmen of High Altitude, an ensemble of the 553rd Band of the Mid-Atlantic, 193rd Special Operations Wing that's how they roll - rock 'n' roll.

The ten-member group recently returned from their first deployment to the United States Central Command area of operations. Their tour schedule spanned 42 days and included 25 performances in support of the band's missions of enhancing troop morale and community relations, inspiring patriotism and advancing international relationships. With multiple missions versatility was essential, said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Fickes, non-commissioned officer in charge of High Altitude.

During their tour, the group, who specializes in performing a range of popular music spanning over 80 years, played for a variety of audiences and venues including hospitals, United Service Organizations, embassies, and military clubs - each of which required a different sound from the band.

"Everyone is very talented and can play at least two instruments, some of them three and we really take advantage of that so we are able to accomplish the mission, whatever it may be," said Sergeant Fickes.

With the manpower of two guitar players, two trombone players, a saxophone player, a trumpet player, a pianist, a bassist, a drummer, and a vocalist High Altitude is able to create a brass band, a jazz combination, a full rock band or an all acoustic set.

"We had serious shows, fun shows and heartfelt shows which all really demonstrate the breadth of our mission," said Sergeant Fickes.

A lot of preparation went into deploying such a multifaceted group of performers. Five months prior to their deployment, the group started putting in a second weekend a month, aside from the standard drill weekend, to practice and perfect their set lists.

Sergeant Fickes' role of NCOIC has him selecting the songs that the group performs. He said he considers the median age of the people they'll be playing for so the song is something they can hear and recognize, which includes today's latest hits from the likes of Lady Gaga. High Altitude plays a variety of music from classic rock to jazz to country to top 40 hits.

But reaching their audience sometimes goes beyond performing something they can sing along to.

"There were a lot of troops who play guitar or other instruments as a hobby and they'd say 'Oh wow I know that song, can I come up and play with you guys,'" said Tech. Sgt. Lori McCarty, a vocalist with High Altitude. "We'd bring them up on stage and they'd play guitar or drums which I think gave them a little taste of home and I think it would even help them to forget where they were for a little bit."

For Sergeant McCarty this deployment confirmed that music is a language anyone can speak.

In regards to their July 4 performance at the United States Embassy in Bahrain, Sergeant McCarty said, "I really enjoyed watching the people react to our music, it let us realize how universal music really is. Some of the tunes we played they might have never heard before, but you still see people dancing and tapping their feet."

The band's performance at the Pat Tillman Memorial USO, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, was a memorable show for Sergeant McCarty and was another example of the impact music can have.

Sergeant McCarty said while playing on the deck outside the USO Jordanian soldiers joined in on their performance.

"We gave them tambourines and they tried to play along with the music and at one point they were even trying to teach us some of their native dances," she said.

For Sergeant Fickes the deployment put their missions into a global perspective.

"It does provide a great perspective to what it is that we do over there and how each individual has a role," said Sergeant Fickes. "You are able to see that it's more than just the Air Force or the United States because you see all the people over there, including all the coalition forces, and you get to meet a lot of different people."

Regardless of the impact the deployment had on the Airmen of High Altitude, they concluded their first deployment fulfilling their missions as a band of the Air National Guard. Along with meeting their mission sets, the group was able to personally gain a better sense of how their individual role plays a part in the bigger picture.

"Singing is what I'm good at and that's what I can contribute to the war and to the troops," said Sergeant McCarty.