FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) — Music can build bridges and touch the heart.
The El Paso Times reports Fort Bliss' 1st Armored Division Band used that as its theme during its recent deployment to the Middle East, along with the division headquarters.
Thirty-four soldiers from the band deployed to Iraq and Kuwait in three rotations from June 2017 to January of this year.
Prior to the deployment, members of the band learned some Arabic music as part of an outreach effort and sign of respect, said Capt. Joel DuBois, commander of the 1st Armored Division Band.
"This was a dedicated effort to connect with Iraqi citizens and military leaders by performing music in their language that they would identify and recognize," said DuBois, from Phoenix.
Band members learned about a half-dozen Arabic songs.
Prior to the deployment, band members worked with Andrea Shaheen Espinosa, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Texas at El Paso. Shaheen Espinosa also is director of UTEP's Arabic music ensemble, Layali Al-Sham.
Now that the band is back, an ensemble of about eight Army musicians will appear as special guests during Layali Al-Sham's spring concert. The concert is free and will be held at 7:30 p.m. April 28 at the university's Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall.
During the deployment, the band did about 120 performances for a combination of U.S. and coalition military and civilian audiences. They played several times for senior Iraqi military officials in Baghdad.
By learning some Arabic music, the idea was to foster goodwill and demonstrate cultural respect for the host nation, DuBois said.
"This music is something that takes a lifetime to learn," DuBois said. "It was a real eye-opener. There is a whole other world of music, which we barely scratched the surface of."
Shaheen Espinosa said she has been impressed by the 1st Armored Division Band.
"This was something that was really the vision of Joel DuBois," she said. "He took a path that I don't know many have made as far as military bands and making this kind of diplomatic effort through music."
"I am so excited to share the stage with them on April 28," Shaheen Espinosa said.
First Sgt. Tracie Whitelaw, the 1st Armored Division Band's senior enlisted leader and a bassoon player, said this initiative was a way to build bridges in the Middle East.
"Part of that is coming in with an open heart and open mind," said Whitelaw, from Mustang, Oklahoma.
By learning Arabic music, it also helped them to "understand the culture and people a little bit more," she said.
Spc. Emily Perkins, a vocalist and keyboardist, learned to sing in Arabic, including being able to perform the Iraqi national anthem.
"It was challenging but fun," said Perkins, from Dowagiac, Michigan.
Perkins said one of the reasons she joined the Army was to share her gift for music.
"If you have a talent or gift, no matter what it is, you should be using it and sharing it with other people," Perkins said.
Sgt. 1st Class George Padilla, a percussionist, said that it all added up to a powerful outreach effort.
"It helped me better understand the culture and people and add a personal touch to a craft I hold near and dear to my heart," said Padilla, from Pico Rivera, California.
During the deployment, the 1st Armored Division Band continued to maintain a strong presence at Fort Bliss and performed at ceremonies and other events at the installation "with no loss of mission," DuBois said.
Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com
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