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Airmen musicians honor sacrifice, uplift spirits

Tech. Sgt. Tom Salyers, (Left) U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West Travis Brass Quintet noncommissioned officer in charge from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Airman 1st Class, Ian O'Bierne, BOGW saxophonist from Pennsauken, New Jersey, pose for a photo at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Nov. 15, 2016. Salyers and O'Bierne joined the band in July. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Tech. Sgt. Tom Salyers, (Left) U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West Travis Brass Quintet noncommissioned officer in charge from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Airman 1st Class, Ian O'Beirne, BOGW saxophonist from Pennsauken, New Jersey, pose for a photo at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Nov. 15, 2016. Salyers and O'Bierne joined the band in July. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Playing music while helping the U.S. Air Force and the United States achieve strategic objectives is a rare occurrence for any musician.

At Travis Air Force Base, California, the nearly 60 members of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West do just that.

The band’s mission is to honor heritage, inspire trust and connect people while promoting the Air Force. The band does this by performing in a variety of capacities for audiences in seven states with a population of nearly 63 million. Many of the band’s members also deploy in support of the Air Force’s Central Command Band’s mission.

Airman 1st Class Ian O’Beirne, BOGW saxophonist, joined the band in July after completing basic military training. He said he was inspired to enlist by his brother-in-law, U.S. Army Sgt. Anthony Paci.

“He was my inspiration,” said O’Beirne. “He was killed in Afghanistan on March 4, 2010.”

Tears began welling up in O’Beirne’s eyes as he shared how the the Army sergeant ignited a fire within him from beyond the grave.

“He motivated me to start auditioning,” said O’Beirne, “I wanted to give back in some way for his sacrifice. People put their lives on the line every day and our job is to honor them on a daily basis. I do everything I can in any given day to do that through music.”

O’Beirne, a native of Pennsauken, New Jersey, started playing the saxophone at the age of 10 when he was in the 5th grade. While attending the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he learned to play the flute and clarinet. He arrived at Travis on July 21 and has performed in about 20 concerts.

“I wanted to pursue a career in music ever since I was 16,” said O’Beirne.

After graduating from college, he joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 2009 and toured with the group nearly 48 weeks a year until leaving for BMT in May. He said he’s thankful for the opportunity to entertain America’s military families.

“With every note I play, I want to do all I can to honor our service members and their families because they deserve it,” he said.

Tech. Sgt. Tom Salyers, BOGW Travis Brass Quintet noncommissioned officer in charge and a trumpet player from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also joined the BOGW in July. He said he’s thrilled for the chance to uplift people’s spirits through song.

“I love it, it’s fun for me and I enjoy bringing other people happiness,” said Salyers.

“We communicate to people in a way that goes beyond words, we honor our veterans and we try to inspire people and heal relationships that may be broken,” he said, “especially on an international stage.”

“We’re probably one of the best diplomatic tools America has,” said Salyers. “There are many barriers that we can break down that words and equipment can’t. At some point, someone has to go into a place to make friends because you’ll need help. Through music we can help forge those relationships and help build coalitions and trust.”

Salyers recalled a performance for orphans during a deployment to Kyrgyzstan.

“One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had came after that performance,” he said. “We were playing at an orphanage with a lot of orphans and many of them had significant birth defects. When we finished all the kids were really happy and the staff members were crying. They said, ‘This is why we love America, because Americans come help.’ That was very moving.”

Salyers has been playing the trumpet for 29 years and has performed for President Barack Obama, thousands of screaming fans on Monday Night Football and for numerous world leaders. However, he said the greatest moments as an Air Force musician for him are moments like the one he witnessed in Kyrgyzstan.

“I’ve had a lot of incredible experiences, but often times, the greatest moments don’t come from the biggest events,” he said.  “Life can be difficult, whether you’re in the military or not and there’s a lot of negativity in the world. If we can give people an escape from that and something positive to think about, even if it’s only for an hour or two when we play music that makes me happy.”