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News > PACAF-Asia jazz combo supports diverted air travelers at Yokota Air Base
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A young couple finds an opportunity to smile in a difficult time, then and strike a pose, bringing a smile to the bass player SSgt Mike Schmaus. SrA Freddie Cruz engages other passengers while performing a rhythmic solo on the Congas. (Courtesy photo)
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PACAF-Asia jazz combo supports diverted air travelers at Yokota Air Base

Posted 3/16/2011   Updated 3/17/2011 Email story   Print story


by SMSgt Michael Goetz
USAF Band of the Pacific - Asia

3/16/2011 - YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- In the aftermath of the massive earthquake which hit the North East Coast of Japan in the afternoon on Friday, 11 March, there were several commercial airliners which were diverted from Narita International Airport. Eleven flights landed instead at Yokota Air Base to avoid potentially unsafe conditions in the Tokyo area, most of which continued on to Haneda International Airport that evening.

Passengers on two of these flights, however, became overnight guests at Yokota, awaiting continuation of their travel. About 500-600 people camped out at the base's Taiyo Recreation Center and were the recipients of local US Air Force hospitality. This ended up including a welcomed impromptu Saturday morning performance for the temporary guests by the PACAF Band-Asia, stationed at Yokota.

SMSgt Michael Goetz, manager and Detachment Chief of the band at Yokota, saw pictures of the huge crowd of displaced travelers on the base's web site the next morning and like many, immediately wanted to help. A quick visit to the center confirmed these visitors could use a little diversion from the stresses of the situation. Telephone calls ensued which mobilized a 3-member combo to get there as fast as they could. After their arrival and a brief set up, the group launched into their repertoire which included Salsa, Latin and Jazz selections.

Air Force members, Red Cross volunteers and others who were present to provide aid and relief to the weary crowd witnessed an immediate change in the atmosphere of the large room as soon as the first note was played. People who were lying or sitting on the floor jumped to their feet to get a closer look at this US Air Force band Jazz Combo and snap pictures and video on their cameras and phones. Others stood in line to get a free copy of the band's current CD, and multitudes swayed and clapped during the performance. Smiles, handshakes and appreciative exclamations of "arigato gozaimasu" and "thank you" were the order of the day, which continued as the last of the group was ushered out to board waiting shuttles and continue their journey.

The band packed up their equipment to depart from another successful performance in the host country of Japan and its always-gracious residents. However, this particular performance would hold a special place in the hearts of the performers, knowing we helped bring a moment of joy and comfort to our Japanese friends and many other people from all over the world. For those passengers who may have never met an American Airman and others who were apprehensive about spending the night on a military base, everyone left Yokota applauding and smiling.

Team Yokota had done a spectacular job of helping those in need, and the AF Band of the Pacific-Asia was proud to be a part of that effort.

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