Music, travel enhance annual training
Six Iowa National Guard members deployed June 30 to southeastern Europe, armed with a tuba, a French horn, trumpets, a trombone and a bandleader’s baton.
Members of the 34th Army Band, the “Brass Five,” spent eight days in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, training with the country’s national security force.
“We performed at ceremonies and concerts together,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kent Wesselink, commander and bandleader who accompanied five of his soldiers to Kosovo.
“We tracked along with the security forces through their training day,” he said. “We rehearsed together all day and taught one another music.
“We are stronger in marching band and Kosovo musicians were stronger in concert performances,” said Wesselink. “All the security forces band members were professional musicians or professors of music at universities.
“We taught them about marching and they shared about performances.”
Spending all day for eight days together, the Iowa soldiers forged friendships.
“We’d go out at night together on the town,” said Wesselink, who teaches high school band in Clarinda and plays percussion.
“This trip was part of our National Guard annual training,” he said. “Our mission was to perform at several locations, partnership and develop relationships with the KSF band.
“I’ve never been so busy on an annual training,” said Wesselink. “We’d get on the bus early in the morning, start training and practicing with the security forces, eat lunch on base and train until 4 or 5 p.m.
“Then we’d change clothes and perform in concert or for ceremonies. It was a full schedule.”
The other five Iowa soldiers on the Kosovo trip were Jeff Six of Fairfield, who plays trumpet; Dan Graber of Lockridge, who plays tuba; Mark Pacha, a Fairfield native now living in Nebraska, who plays trombone; Nolan Budweg of Eldora, a student at Iowa State University in Ames, on French horn; and Jacob Rouse, a student at Loras College in Dubuque, on trumpet.
The soldiers trained on a base with Kosovo Security Forces in the capital and were lodged at a local hotel. It was the first time for each of the Iowa soldiers to visit Kosovo, Wesselink said.
“We’re all a part of the 34th Army Band here in Fairfield,” he said. “The band includes several smaller groups and combos within it. It can divide into five teams, including a jazz combo, a drum and fife corps, the Sidewinders which recently performed at 1st Fridays Art Walk in Fairfield, the Brass Five and a brass pop combo,” said Wesselink.
The soldiers were in-country July 1-9, with a travel day at each end.
“We were in Kosovo on the Fourth of July holiday,” said Six, who is also a Fairfield firefighter. “The Kosovo people celebrate big, because they are grateful for the U.S. helping out in the 1998-99 conflict.
“We played for a reception at the National Museum with the president of Kosovo, the U.S. ambassador and Gov. Branstad there.”
Iowa and Kosovo created a National Guard Partnership in 2011 with a long-term goal of developing the Kosovo Security Force and fostering mutually beneficial interests across all levels of society. That relationship led to a sister state agreement.
The Iowa-Kosovo National Guard Partnership is one of 22 European partnerships in the U.S. European Partnership Program and one of 65 worldwide partnerships that make up the National Guard State Partnership Program.
“The ceremony with Gov. Branstad was a culmination of Iowa’s partnership,” Wesselink said. “The officials held meetings during the day and signed agreements. The reception where we performed was a formal evening.”
Wesselink said the Fourth of July celebrated in Pristina was nearly identical to the holiday in the U.S.
“We played patriotic music at a performance open to everyone,” he said. “It was held downtown on the Mother Theresa Pedestrian Mall. The townspeople were very welcoming to all of us everywhere we went.
“After the Fourth of July performance, it took us three hours to navigate out of the crowd because everyone wanted photos with the U.S. soldiers,” said Wesselink. “We all felt very welcome. It was a very humbling experience to be thanked for helping their country. It felt good to represent the United States.
“It was quite an honor to represent the United States and I learned a lot,” he said.
The 34th Army Band Sidewinders will play at Fairfield RAGBRAI, 5:30-6:30 p.m. July 26 on the main stage north of the downtown square.