FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Members of Fort Leonard Wood’s 399th Army Band visited Camp Atterbury, Indiana, this month to perform for Afghan evacuees and the Soldiers providing assistance to them, in support of Operation Allies Welcome.
The four concerts, given by the Rough Riders rock band — including Sgts. 1st Class Michael Joseph (vocals and drums) and Dan Puls (lead vocalist), Staff Sgt. Brian Mackie (bass), Sgt. Dgiovahni Denize (sound reinforcement), and Spc. Patrick Haley (guitar and drums) — occurred Nov. 13 and 14 at the south-central Indiana installation.
To be able to do something of this magnitude, Mackie said, was just a wonderful opportunity.
“We played a pretty wide variety of music and I think what we did out there worked really well,” he said. “There seemed to be a pretty great appreciation for us being there, both from the Americans and the Afghans in the audience. We received a lot of positive feedback.”
Mackie, who originally hails from Melbourne, Florida, said the first show they performed was outside — the temperature was just 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We all learned that it was possible to get through a show when we couldn’t feel our fingers,” he said.
While setting up for the shows, Mackie said the Afghan children were coming over, some to just see what was going on and others to bang on the bass drum or pluck a guitar string.
“It was a unique setting,” Mackie said. “The kids — as soon as we plugged in, turned on and started playing — their eyes were huge.”
Music is often called an international language, Mackie said, and that was put to the test when the band was given the opportunity to perform with an Afghan singer.
“He got up at one of our shows with a keyboard and sang a couple of songs,” Mackie said. “For us, as musicians, it was a unique and eye-opening experience because they have a different pulse and rhythm to their music. But whether or not you understand the words being sung or the message of the song, you can still feel the beat.”
One 399th Soldier with the band at Camp Atterbury was not performing. Spc. Douglas Olenik, a tuba player from Creston, Ohio, was there in a support function. A music teacher for seven years before joining the Army in 2020, Olenik said the Afghan children reminded him of his former job a bit.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect — I haven’t been to Afghanistan,” he said. “I was surprised how very much like us they are, how much they like having fun. The kids are the same — those little ones — they just speak a different language.”
Even though he wasn’t there in a performance capacity, Olenik called the experience highly rewarding.
“It’s something most people don’t get to experience outside of the Army,” he said. “It’s a different level of reward. I’ve played all kinds of concerts for all kinds of different things, but knowing we were there helping those people through a challenging time is pretty cool.”
Mackie said it’s difficult to imagine what the Afghan evacuees are going through, but he’s happy he could do something to help brighten their days.
“If I had to leave my own country and go to another country, there are so many unknowns, there would be a lot of anxiety,” he said. “So, we were happy to help provide a moment in time where everybody could come together. Some of the older songs we played, there were Afghans out in the audience who were mouthing the words. It was a heartfelt experience.”