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News > AFCENT band 'Galaxy' builds relationships throughout deployed areas
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 The members who make up "Galaxy" are deployed from Air Mobility Command's Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
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USAFCENT Band performs in Jordan
Airman 1st Class Megan Hokaj from U.S. Air Forces Central Band "Galaxy" dances with a student during a performance at Fatime Zahra' School for Girls in Amman, Jordan, on Oct. 27, 2010. Galaxy performs for audiences throughout Southwest Asia to help build relations with international partners. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
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AFCENT band 'Galaxy' builds relationships throughout deployed areas

Posted 11/1/2010   Updated 11/1/2010 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Chyenne A. Adams
U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs

11/1/2010 - AZRAQ, Jordan -- When most people hear "Air Force Band," they most likely picture a marching band, or a small group of classical musicians. Very few would picture the seven Airmen who make up Galaxy -- a rock band currently deployed as the U.S. Air Forces Central Command band deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

These seven people came from very different backgrounds to form the group.

Five people were already in the band at Travis -- Master Sgt. Mike Williams, the NCO in charge and keyboardist; Staff Sgt. Geoff Fisher, vocalist; Staff Sgt. Marshall Gentry, drummer; Staff Sgt. Alex Nikiforoff, guitarist; and Airman 1st Class Joe Whitt, bassist. Master Sgt. Henry Martin, sound technician, and Airman 1st Class Megan Hokaj, vocalist, rounded out the group shortly before the group started preparing for their deployment.

"In mid-May, we began rehearsals for an August deployment," said Sergeant Williams. "Preparations were slightly rushed, but we have a very high level of musicianship in the group, and were able to put it together in a very short time."

Sergeant Williams is no stranger to adapting to ever-changing circumstances -- he's spent 18 years performing in military bands, his first nine years serving in the Army Band and the last nine in the Air Force Band.

"Since I was seven I've played piano," he said. "If you love people, music and traveling the world, there's no better job than the Air Force Band."

This bandsman leads a group of six others with extraordinary backgrounds themselves.

Sergeant Fisher, the male vocalist, is a former AGE technician who has a vocal repertoire that can go from Michael MacDonald to Michael Jackson. The female vocalist -- Airman Hokaj, has less than one year in the Air Force but is the "sunshine" of the group, according to the other members. Sergeant Martin has always been in the communications field but went from setting up ground radio equipment to setting up soundboards, amplifiers, microphones and dealing with electricity issues from different voltages around the world.

Sergeant Gentry not only plays the drums, but "can pretty much play every other instrument in the band," according to Sergeant Williams. Airman Whitt is an accomplished bassist who traveled around the world performing before joining the military. Last but not least, Sergeant Nikiforoff, formerly a member of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard band programs, "crossed over to the blue" and gets cheers on stage for performing everything from the Sex Pistols to Jimi Hendrix -- sometimes with the guitar behind his back.

This varied group of accomplished musicians went through Combat Airman Skills Training and the other required pre-deployment requirements that all Airman have -- leaving them time for about three shows together to warm up before heading to their deployment.

"We wanted to have a chance to play together," said Sergeant Williams. "And we also wanted to let our local community know what we were sending overseas to represent the Air Force and Travis."

According to the sponsors for the band at every stop they've made, Travis AFB community and base officials should be very proud.

The band has received similar kudos at nearly every stop they've made in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility -- which includes more than 30 performances, sometimes twice a day, in six countries -- Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Oman, Afghanistan, Jordan, Qatar -- in three months.

Through teamwork, the band is as self-sufficient as possible. The entire group has been properly trained on how to build a pallet and the sound technician is forklift qualified so that they can get their pallet of equipment to where they need it to be. The group hauls more than 2,000 pounds of equipment themselves and sets up and tears down for every performance.

"Regardless of the ever-changing schedule, little sleep, or how long the travel was -- we pride ourselves to never let it show on-stage and to always deliver a highly entertaining polished product that the audience deserves," said Sergeant Williams.

The group ended their deployment with seven performances in Jordan, performing several times at military schools where initially the audience sat at attention in their seats. However, those same performances ended with the audience waving their scarves in the air and blowing kisses to the band. Every person in the band was asked to take photographs and sign autographs.

"We all have amazing stories to take home with us," said Sergeant Williams. "But the two most important things we've accomplished here is the outreach to all the communities we've played in and representing as the face of the Air Force to people around the world, as well as bringing a taste of home to all the deployed servicemembers at all the places we've been."

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