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BOMA vocalist shares stories of band’s impact across globe

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marjorie A. Bowlden)

Airman 1st Class Anneke Bentley, vocalist with U.S. Air Forces Central Command band Starlifter, performs for Airmen of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, July 26, 2017. The AFCENT Band, stationed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, travels throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility in support of building partnerships, boosting morale, and providing diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marjorie A. Bowlden)

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

Airman 1st Class Anneke Bentley, U.S. Air Forces Central Command Band vocalist, sings and dances with a child from Caritas Djibouti while Airman 1st Class Joshua Dick, AFCENT Band percussionist, and Tech. Sgt. Joshua Holdridge, AFCENT Band bass player, accompany her in Djibouti City, June 6, 2017. The AFCENT Band, Starlifter, is based in Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and has a mission of performing and touring in small ensembles to positively promote troop morale, diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

Senior Airman Anneke Bentley, vocalist with the Band of Mid-America, has shared her voice with countless audience members around the world.

From a Veterans Affairs hospital in Chicago to an art institute in Djibouti, Bentley’s experiences highlight the band’s unique ability to connect people across all backgrounds.

Bentley’s supervisor and fellow bandmate, Tech. Sgt. Joshua Holdridge, said that as the most visible member of the band, Bentley is responsible for building that connection with the audience.

 “The vocalist role is absolutely critical to the success of the group,” he said. “You have to be able to connect with people on some level or we’re not doing our jobs, our missions.”

Bentley said that she witnessed music bridge linguistic and cultural barriers while she was deployed last summer to Qatar. When she traveled to Djibouti, she performed with local musicians at the Djibouti Art Institute.

“There was an instant connection when we started to play,” she said. “Together, we created an original piece of music. Working with the Djiboutian musicians taught me that the common language of music can build meaningful connections and friendships in a very short amount of time.”

Later that same week, the band went to a local orphanage and sang for 75 children.

“These children were kicking around soccer balls in their bare feet and pulling out rocks that got lodged between their toes, but they didn’t complain,” said Bentley. “When we arrived, the kids flocked to us, tugging at our instruments. We started to play and dance with them, and it was an instant celebration.”

Back in the states, the band’s community outreach programs include visits to VA hospitals, where they entertain and honor recovering veterans.

“Honoring our veterans with the gift of music and seeing the joy it brings them is priceless,” Bentley said.

Last year, the band performed a private concert for a young wounded veteran who was learning how to walk, talk and eat again.

“His nurse was in tears,” said Bentley. “She said it was the most lively she has seen him and that it meant so much to him to have Airman his own age come and spend quality time with him.”

This past Veterans Day, Bentley performed for mentally impaired veterans at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. There, she saw music calm a patient who was in the middle of an episode.

“As soon as he heard the music, he began dancing and singing along with us,” she said. “I could see how positively the music was affecting his demeanor.”

Whether her music is dissolving cultural barriers or comforting wounded veterans, Bentley said that she has seen countless instances of audience members experiencing healing, inspiration and comfort from attending a performance. For her, this all culminates to create proof of a single principle:

“The power of music to move people is undeniable,” she said.