Fort Drum, Canadian officers bond over bluegrass in Afghanistan
March 24, 2011
Afghanistan: combat, progress, bluegrass'
Two ISAF Regional Command (South) officers bring a little twang to Southwest Asia.
Col. John Sims, a 10th Mountain Division (LI) officer who serves as chief of information effects for RC-South, and Canadian Air Force Capt. Paul Dacier, officer in charge of priority air mission requests for RC-South, get together every Friday morning to play a little bluegrass.
With Sims on the banjo and Dacier scratching the fiddle, the pair tries to brighten the day of passersby. They set up in an open area usually used for ceremonies in front of the RC-South headquarters and play for an hour for anyone who will listen. Some folks stop and listen for a while, others pass by with no interest, but a few get comfortable and start their Friday with a little musical enjoyment.
This unlikely pair met at Fort Drum before their current deployment during an exercise to prepare their units for Afghanistan. The visiting Canadians held a barbecue at the end of the exercise and invited the Americans to join them. Some of Dacier's colleagues asked him to bring his fiddle along to provide a little entertainment. When he arrived, he found out that an American brought a banjo. They jammed together that night, and that is how the duo of Sims and Dacier came to be.
When Sims and Dacier parted ways, they made an agreement to bring their instruments with them on the deployment so they could continue to play music together. They both made good on this arrangement, and now they regularly enjoy each other's company and musical style.
Dacier is no one-trick pony; he plays fiddle, piano and guitar. He also runs his own business, teaching people to play the fiddle or piano. He's been playing instruments since he was 10 years old.
"I started with the piano at 10. Then one night, my dad was practicing the fiddle, and I wanted to learn to play," Dacier said. "I picked up the fiddle and learned the song on the spot; I was 17 years old then."
Sims, too, comes from a musical family, noting that everyone in his Family plays some sort of instrument. He attributes his start with the banjo to being a bored youth.
"I stared playing when I was about 14," Sims recalled. "I was hanging out at a gas station with nothing to do, and a guy on a motorcycle rolled up with a banjo on his back. I asked what it was, he said it was a banjo, and I decided I wanted to learn it."
Sims wanted to be a musician for the Army, but it wasn't meant to be.
"I joined the Army to play the banjo in the Army band - that was in 1980. That didn't quite work out the way I wanted it to," he said. "I became a field artilleryman, but if you love music, you don't just leave it, and it goes with you."
When playing together, the pair mostly goes off the cuff, playing whatever song comes to mind. Their selection may range from favorites like "Do Your Ears Hang Low" and "Pachelbel's Canon" to gospel classics like "Amazing Grace."
Dacier said when you know a lot of well known songs, it's easier to just sit and jam with someone as opposed to composing your own tunes.
The duo's informal approach to bluegrass works well for them. The performances are generally well received by passersby and those who take the time to stop and enjoy the music.
Playing for their fellow Soldiers does more than allow them to have a little fun once a week; it sets a good tone for the day.
"This is a very important mission that we're here doing, and we're pretty serious about it, but you have to sharpen your axe," Sims said. "We only do it an hour once a week, but it's just long enough to get in there and hopefully bring a bit of peace and stability to Afghanistan."
The musicians get something personal out of the weekly jam sessions as well.
"When I play music, I think about nothing else," Dacier said. "I just play the song the best I can so all my focus goes into the song, and I just forget about the war and all the conflict."
Being from a Family of musicians, Sims isn't content to let music fade from his life, or the lives of the Family he has started.
"Music was always something that held my Family together, and just like that I think I passed that on to my kids. So my kids are musicians or they sing, they dance, and my wife Theresa is our favorite fan," Sims said.
While playing music helps clear Dacier's mind, Sims just thinks it's good plain fun.
"It's my favorite day of the week," he remarked.