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AFCENT Band ‘Top Cover’ rocks, rolls through Central Asia
Tech. Sgt. Denny Pack plays guitar during a “Top Cover” show at A’la Too Square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Sept. 23 2011. During their deployment the U.S. Air Forces Central Command band Top Cover will perform for host nation audiences and service members in seven Central Asia countries. Pack is deployed as the NCO in charge of Top Cover from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. He is a native of Twin Falls, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Hank Hoegen)
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AFCENT Band 'Top Cover' rocks, rolls through seven countries

Posted 9/29/2011   Updated 9/30/2011 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Tammie Moore
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

9/29/2011 - TRANST CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- Music has the power to brighten a person's day and connect different cultures despite language barriers.

"It's truly amazing how musical events can really open up the hearts and minds of the people we play for and their leaders ... it opens doors that did not exist before," said Tech. Sgt. Denny Pack, U.S. Air Forces Central Command Band "Top Cover" NCO in charge and guitarist.

Top Cover is traveling and performing throughout seven countries. Whether playing at their homestation of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, or in the Kyrgyz Republic, they put a lot of work into preparing for every show.

"When you see an Air Force band concert you see the end product," Pack said. "What you don't see behind the scene are things it takes to make this happen. Every band member has an additional duty to get us to and from each performance. We set up all of our own equipment and we maintain it. We do it all and it is a lot of work."

For most Air Force band members the work begins well before they join the service. There is a stringent selection process for the musicians, including auditions. About 90 percent of Air Force band members enter the Air Force with a bachelor's degree in a musical field of study.

"The other service bands have a school of music, the Air Force doesn't," said Capt. Dave Alpar, Top Cover officer in charge. "Because we don't have that type of school, we expect our musicians to be fully trained when they join."

Airman 1st Class Phil Runge joined the Air Force two years ago. When he enlisted he had a bachelor's degree in jazz music.

"There is no technical school for this career field," said Runge, a Chicago native. "Since we audition for the job it is assumed we already know certain things, so we graduate basic training as a 3-level."

Top Cover band members have been playing together for about a year. To prepare for this deployment they memorized two hours worth of music.

"We realize people like different music, so if we diversify ourselves we have a greater chance of playing something that someone really likes," said Pack, a native of Twin Falls, Idaho.

The band members are able to modify their sets based on where they perform. They can play electric or acoustic sets, so they can adjust their footprint based on the mission requirements they are sent out to support.

"We have to be prepared to be very light and lean because sometimes when we travel to forward operating bases in Afghanistan we don't have the luxury of a C-130 or a C-17; we have to fit into the back of a Black Hawk helicopter," said Alpar, a native of Amarillo, Texas.

During their deployment they will perform for host nation audiences and servicemembers.

"It is a fantastic mission to be able to make a difference for the troops who have not seen their families for months and are just doing their job to 110 percent of their ability, putting their lives on the line every day," Pack said. "To be able to entertain them, put a smile on their faces and remind them of home is absolutely why I joined the Air Force."

The first stop on Top Cover's tour was the Kyrgyz Republic where they played two shows at the Transit Center at Manas and five concerts at various locations off the installation.

"So far the most rewarding part of the job has been this tour," Runge said. "Here we get to play for people who truly want to hear our music. It reassures me why I got a degree in music and that makes it all worthwhile."

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