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A show of force

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Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2007 10:00 pm

The 10 members of the U.S. Air Force Academy Band who performed Sunday at Hutchins Street Square come from a variety of backgrounds. They aren't necessarily military backgrounds, either.

French horn player Eric Thomas, from Southern California, wanted to perform in a symphony orchestra. Trumpet player Larry Hill played in the New Mexico symphony but found the Air Force a better gig. Nancy Poffensbarger, an 11-year veteran with the Air Force band, is a singer who happened to see an advertisement while in college in San Antonio, Texas. Henrique De Almeida is a native of Brazil who also wanted to play music.

The following performed Sunday at Hutchins Street Square on Sunday:
• Senior Master Sgt. Larry Hill, Albuquerque, N.M., trumpet, group leader.
• Master Sgt. Jeffry Hatfield, Ft. Wayne, Ind., trumpet.
• Master Sgt. Eric Thomas, Los Angeles, French horn.
• Master Sgt. Randal Schneider, Colorado Springs. Colo., trombone.
• Master Sgt. Karl Bradley, Branson, Mo., bass trombone.
• Tech Sgt. Stephen Brannen, Nashville, Tenn., guitar.
• Tech Sgt. Jason Crowe, Vancouver, Wash., bass.
• Tech Sgt. Henrique De Almeida, Recife, Brazil, drums.
• Master Sgt. Randall Ward, Simi Valley, keyboard and vocals.
• Tech Sgt. Nancy Poffenbarger, San Antonio, Texas, vocalist.
Source: United States Air Force Academy Band

"We have quite a different mission than most musicians,"

Hill said. "We get to bring a positive face of what the Air Force is to the public. They get a chance to see that we're pretty good at what we do."

The Air Force Academy Band consists of 68 musicians. They often play together, but at other times, such as Sunday in Lodi, they play in smaller groups. The band flew to Los Angeles last week and divided into five groups, three of them in the Los Angeles area, one that went to San Diego and one - the Galaxy Brass - that went to Northern California.

The group that played before packed houses in two performances Sunday in Lodi has five musicians who play brass instruments, one who plays bass, a guitarist and two singers, one of whom plays keyboards.

Master Sergeant Jeffey Hatfield plays the trumpet during the Galaxy Brass concert on Sunday afternoon. (Whitney Ramirez/News-Sentinel)

Their repertoire isn't limited to the traditional patriotic marches, although they started with the national anthem and ended with "God Bless America."

But in between, they played loudly, sometimes with a rock 'n' roll style with guitars, drums, trumpets, trombones and other instruments. Prior to intermission, the group took advantage of their brass instruments to play a medley of hits by the 1960s-70s group Chicago, including "Beginnings," "If You Leave Me Now," "Saturday in the Park" and "Make Me Smile," with Tech Sgt. Henrique De Almeida finishing with a long drum solo.

"It's a beautiful hall, and the staff here is wonderful," Hill said of Hutchins Street Square.

The band performs about 600 times annually, with each individual participating in about 100 performances a year, Hill said.

The Lodi stop was the third leg of the Northern California tour, which started Friday night performing the national anthem at the San Jose Sharks hockey game. On Saturday, they participated in the St. Patrick's Day parade in San Francisco. Tonight, they will be in Marysville, and they conclude their tour Tuesday in Yountville. Then they head home to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ten musicians are on stage. They are accompanied by a sound technician and a bus driver to take them to their concert venues.

Tech Sergeant Stephen Brannen plays the guitar on Sunday afternoon. (Whitney Ramirez/News-Sentinel)

One of the performers, guitarist Tech Sgt. Stephen Brannen, toured Iraq, Afghanistan and seven other nearby countries with other Air Force musicians for a month last summer.

"It was brutal - 130-something degrees," Brannen said.

Amazingly, the troops get acclimated to the heat, he said.

The morale remains good among the troops in Iraq, although Brannen heard mortars go off at a distance three times.

Although Brannen's group performed before American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, they performed for state department officials and embassies in the other countries, mostly in the former Soviet Union.

Brennan found Turkmenistan a rather odd country because it is run by a dictator who had modern skyscrapers built to make the country look nice, even though his citizens couldn't afford to live there.

"It looked like Vegas at night, but nobody lived there," he said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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