AL UDEID, AIR BASE, Qatar -- Sirens screaming in the night alerted airmen to take shelter in protective concrete bunkers during an enemy mortar attack. Forward-deployed members of the Air Force Central Command Band waited with fellow wingmen for the ‘all clear’ signal when one airman requested a song.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelly Perry, a Crestwood, Ky., native, and fellow vocalist Tech. Sgt. Felita LaRock, from Newark, Ohio, responded with an a cappella version of “Killing me Softly” until the ‘all clear’ sounded and everyone returned to work. The event left a lasting impression on Perry.
“It makes you think about everything, right then and there; what you have and what you can lose,” said Perry, thinking of her daughter, Lauren, age 5, and husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Burt Perry. The mortar attack underscored the Air Force vocalist’s determination to make a difference in the morale of service members during her Operation Enduring Freedom deployment, through music.
Perry’s band, ‘Systems Go’ forward deploys from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, throughout the area of responsibility to support troop morale and international partnership building. The band recently completed a 15-day mission into Afghanistan, conducting 19 performances for deployed service members in four provinces at five forward operating bases.
While visiting Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, the band performed for airmen assigned to the 651st Air Expeditionary Group, helping them to relax and forget about hardships of their deployment, if only for a few songs, according to Perry.
"There were people smiling, cutting up and dancing who never do anything like that," said Air Force Master Sgt. Travon Dennis, 651st AEG first sergeant, deployed from Dobbins Air Force Base, Ga.
“The service members we perform for give me the energy to keep going, no matter what type of day I'm having... it's not about me; it's about them," said Perry.
On another day, travel between bases provided Perry a microphone on an uncommon stage, the flight deck of a C-130 Hercules. The Air Force NCO sang over the aircraft intercom system.
“The aircrew was irritated by multiple delays earlier in their day and they just wanted to finish their mission,” said Perry. “When I sang Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ the crew loved it and you could tell it made the last flight of their day more enjoyable.”
Perry’s personal journey, that eventually led her into Afghanistan, began in 2004. After one semester of classical singing instruction, at age 19, she auditioned for the Air Force band at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the band’s current home station. There is no formal technical school for Air Force band members; they’re fully qualified musicians before they start their Air Force career. Perry was selected after a single audition.
"I didn't have it all, but the Air Force molded me and gave me the ability to sing almost any genre of music,” said Perry. "The Air Force molded me into who I needed to be, and it's why I’m successful today."
Perry's favorite part of her job is taking care of airmen and making a difference in their day, she said.
"After a recent performance, an airman told us about a really bad day he had, and with our music we helped him forget about that day and continue on,” said Perry. "It's amazing and I love it."
“Sgt. Perry is an extremely positive and energetic person,” said Capt. Haley Armstrong, AFCENT Band officer in charge and Sonora, Calif., native, deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan. “Audiences are drawn to her because she genuinely cares about people; it’s something you see in her performances, and it’s something her wingmen see in her as a member of this team.”
Music is the forum Perry uses to support the Air Force mission and her fellow service members.
"After the show you get the stories," said Perry. "Our music is the door that opens and allows a person to share their story… that’s why I love this job."