I was recently asked if the band had played for any VIP's since arriving at Kandahar Air Field, and until this past Wednesday, December 15, the answer was "no." But that changed this week when we were told that Wednesday, Ivan Gasparovic, the President of the Slovak Republic (more commonly called Slovakia) would be visiting the base. I don't know the specific purpose of his visit, but there is a sizable contingent of Slovakian Soldiers at KAF.
The band members met early Wednesday morning to prepare for the arrival. We hauled our chairs, music stands, and instruments over to the reception area by the runway. I made sure to wear several layers under the uniform to protect against the biting cold air. Once we had our things set up, it was a matter of waiting for the arrival. A group of Slovakian troops were situated next to us holding their flag. We were given updates every so often: "Twenty minutes," "ten minutes," and so on. Our set list alternated between typical Sousa marches and Fillmore marches and Christmas songs. I have no idea if any of our popular Christmas music is known in Slovakia, but playing music helped us ignore the cold so we didn't worry about that too much. Our commander made sure to include Sousa's "Hands Across the Sea" march, which was written to commemorate international friendship. What didn't help was that about the time we started playing, the wind began to blow. On one of the Christmas tunes, my stand nearly blew over and the other trombonist held my stand while I played!
Finally, the large white airplane with the Slovakian flag and the words SLOVAK REPUBLIC painted on the side pulled up behind where we were sitting. We continued waiting while...nothing happened. After an uncomfortably long wait we found out that they were still waiting for someone to roll out the steps to the airplane door! When the mobile walkway finally emerged, it seemed like they took two or three tries at the plane's front door before moving to the middle exit. I'm sure there was a good reason for it, but it made the event a little more amusing for us.
When the official party finally began walking toward the reception area, we began to play the Slovakian anthem "Lightning Over the Tatras." Members of the Slovakian press (I presume) made sure to get footage of the band while we played, but the President and much of his entourage quickly moved inside, and I can't blame them given the cold weather. When they returned to get into the fleet of cars that would transport them around the post, President Gasparovic made sure to give the band a salute. It's always nice to have the man of the hour acknowledge the band! Once the cars pulled away, we began to pack up and get ready for the rest of the otherwise normal workday. Later, though, we found out about some more visitors who would be coming Thursday, and those visitors will be the subject of the next blog!