By Senior Airman Daniel N. Thrower
United States Air Force Band of the West
Part of the Airman’s Creed states, “I am faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor.” These qualities instill a bigger picture of what it means to be an Airman and a member of the uniformed services in general. Any person can inspire others, and many of our nation’s service members do, including its musicians.
As a child, I watched the end of Star Wars VI, Return of the Jedi, when Luke Skywalker was presented with medals for valor. I was incredibly inspired by the pageantry associated with it—especially the music! Now, I get the opportunity to perform at military change of command ceremonies, retirements, memorials, reunions and other types of observances. I feel privileged to use music to inspire, and often the inspiration felt by musicians and the audience is mutual.
It doesn’t matter if I perform at larger major command events for four-star generals or smaller venues for elementary school students. I always walk away with greater enthusiasm, edification and inspiration when I perform with the United States Air Force Band of the West.
I distinctly recall feeling deeply grateful after one performance at a ceremony honoring Freedom Flyers. This group is comprised of Vietnam prisoners of war, and they continue to bring back the remains of American heroes who were lost in the battlegrounds of Vietnam. I felt privileged to take part in that extraordinary reunion last year.
After a recent presentation at another elementary school, some of the school children swarmed me with exciting tidbits and various comments about our performance. One girl timidly stayed back until the other more outspoken kids left. She meekly approached me, gave me a gentle hug and softly said, “Thank you for your service.” I recognized my position as a service member to accept this little girl’s gratitude on behalf of all who have served our great country.
I didn’t think about the implications of this humble fourth grader’s comment until the next day when I was playing at a ceremony honoring our veterans. I began to think of this little girl, and said to myself, “I bet her daddy is deployed, or maybe she has lost a loved one in the service.” Truly, there was much more meaning than the simple five words the young lady mustered the courage to say to me. I later discovered that her father was deployed to Afghanistan.
I approach performances more carefully as a result of this real life testimony of sacrifice. There are always those we perform for who are in great need of inspiration, which often can be best relayed through the language of music. I strive to make the heritage of which I am part of prouder, the tradition more honorable and the legacy more valiant as I do my best as an American Airman musician to inspire all who hear the USAF Band of the West perform.