SHAW AIR FORCE BASE — Despite looming budget cuts that have grounded a total of 17 combat squadrons, the Air Force has deployed its newest weapon in Afghanistan: A musical ensemble called "Hypersonic." Screened from a total force of more than 500,000, just eight Airmen earned the right to be inducted into what may be the Air Force’s most elite unit — the AFCENT Band.
“You think becoming a PJ or a Combat Controller is hard?” said Tech. Sgt. John Shuga' Reynolds, who washed out on zero day of the grueling selection course. “There are hundreds of PJs, probably thousands of Combat Controllers; there are only eight members of the AFCENT Band. You do the math.”
Reynolds went on to explain that he washed out following an intense “scale session” where he was made to play his saxophone underwater while tying knots onto a cable run across the bottom of the pool. “I met the wizard. That’s all I have to say about that.”
While the Army is focused on fighting the Taliban and conducting dangerous route clearance operations that result in scores of fatalities every year, AFCENT has been looking to end the war on a brighter note by building bands. AFCENT now has one permanently assigned band in the CENTCOM AOR. “We hope to build more bands,” said Col. Richard Schmedely of AFCENT. “Musical instruments are much cheaper to maintain than jets and they really seem to make people happy.”
The eight elite musicians who passed the selection process have been given a total pass from any war-related work and will spend the next several months on an exhausting tour of the AOR where they will perform nightly missions under some of the harshest conditions in the world.
"Hypersonic" is not AFCENT’s first foray into the world of combat zone music-making. Previously, there was Vector, and even earlier there was a band called Total Force. According to the AFCENT Band Facebook page “Total Force” had to be disbanded after “they performed over 100 times in the 105 days of their deployment," said Senior Master Sgt. Wendy Lowler, the superintendent of the secretive organization known as “A3-5-7/B”.
“The generals just couldn’t get enough of “Total Force,” said Lowler, who oversees the management of all Civil Engineering deployments and the Top-Secret Band Program. "The results were astounding but these are Airmen, not drones. You just can’t work them that hard."
Total Force was deactivated after only 105 days on the road. The Airmen were returned to their original units where they will now support combat aviation squadrons that don’t fly. “We’re hoping to manage 'Hypersonic' a little better,” added Lowler. “You know, give them a few more days of rest, more embassy gigs and maybe a record deal. Let’s face it, in an Air Force that can’t even fly planes there really isn’t much of a future. We owe it to these Airmen to help them prepare for life in the real world where being a musician actually matters.”
The Chief of Staff of the Air Force is expected to add “First Class Musical Ensembles” to the Air Force’s list of Core Competencies which currently include: Air and Space Superiority, Global Attack, Rapid Global Mobility, Precision Engagement, Information Superiority and Agile Combat Support.
“We’re not seeing much combat these days,” says Lowler. “So we’re trying really hard to find our way out of this wet paper bag called Afghanistan and expand our horizons.”