By Master Sergeant Jim Guzior, 25th Infantry Division Public Affairs OfficeSeptember 13, 2010
SAKHALIN ISLAND, RUSSIA - History was made, not once but twice, by the 25th Infantry Division "Tropic Lightning" Band as they traveled to Shanghai, China and then Sakhalin, Russia, to perform for new audiences during an international community relations mission for the U.S. Army, and Pacific Command.
The band's first stop was Shanghai, China where they performed for high school and elementary students at the Shanghai Community International School. Once their performance was finished, they performed a special concert for the school's music students.
"The students here have never seen a professional band and so this performance gave the children a chance to see what they are learning to do right now," said Mindy Ruskovich, middle and high school band teacher.
The program concluded with the band answering a variety of questions from the young international students on topics ranging from military service to music.
The following day the band made history as the first U.S. military band to play at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Their first performance was at the America Square stage where hundreds gathered to listen to the Division's band play some traditional American songs. The crowd became energetically involved as they danced and clapped to the band's Dixieland music.
After the performance, the band joined the Expo patrons for some picture taking and the international crowd eagerly displayed their Hawaiian "shakas" sharing some aloha spirit with their visitors.
"Music is a language that needs no translation," said Chief Warrant Officer 2, Joseph Parenteau commander and conductor, 25th Inf. Div. Band. "We're putting forth programs that are fun and entertaining. When people watch American Soldiers on television, they see weapons, helmets, body armor on combat missions; the band helps put a human face on the Army and let's an international audience here at the Expo get right up close and personal and see and talk to an American Soldier," he added.
An hour later, the band lined up as the grand finale in a two-mile parade route through the streets of the Expo. Led by a 25th Infantry Division Army color guard, the band marched and played for thousands along the parade route. Patrons scrambled to get pictures and followed alongside the division band as they marched down the main street.
The parade concluded with a musical performance by the band at the most populated patron reviewing area. The bandsmen and color guard were soon swarmed by patrons for autographs and photos.
"This is just amazing," said Sergeant First Class, Jovan Velasquez, from 25th ID headquarters and color guard leader. "These people are standing in line just to get pictures with an American Soldier. I'm still in shock that I just carried our nation's flag down the streets of Shanghai, China at the World Expo...just historic," he added.
History was about to be made a second time as the band boarded a plane for Russia's Far East - Sakhalin Island. The band was about to become the first U.S military band to perform in this part of Russia and the first to participate in a ceremony 65 years in the making.
The signing of the surrender documents aboard the American battleship U.S.S. Missouri on September 2, 1945 officially ended the war and brought peace to the world. The following day, Russia officially proclaimed that every September 3rd would be celebrated as Victory Day for Russia.
The battle of Sakhalin and the Kuril islands was one of the hardest-fought battles for Russia during World War II, however, in Sakhalin, this annual celebration and commemoration just never took place. Sixty-five years later Sakhalin would finally commemorate Victory Day with the help of the 25th ID band.
"When the Sakhalin Oblast administration invited us to their day of remembrance, it's important to remember that during World War II, the United States and the Soviet forces worked together, so it was truly fitting for us to work together again for this festival," said Sakhalin U.S. Consulate General, Patricia Miller. The visit began with a meeting of the Sakhalin Oblast First Deputy Governor, Konstantin M. Stroganov at the governor's office. "We are so excited and happy you are here to celebrate with us and we know it will be a great success," said the governor.
The band performed for the cities of Kholmsk and Aniva and also for a youth camp at Selisakh. It was clear that the crowd's showing for these performances were most intrigued and appreciative of the different style of music that the division band was playing. "I think they were a little bit surprised that you weren't just a regular band," said Miller. "The rap music made a big hit, the Michael Jackson songs made a big hit, the whole brass band and concert band, everyone seemed to enjoy every aspect of it," she added.
The teenage crowd at the Selisakh Youth Camp raised their arms, danced and howled with enthusiasm for the band's rap, "Pastime Paradise," and rushed the stage during the funk song, "Brooklyn".
"I saw the shiny eyes and smiles of the young people here and that was the best sign for me that this concert was successful," said Bordenis Osidulov, the youth camp director.
The final event was a wreath laying ceremony at Slava Memorial where fallen heroes of World War II were remembered. The Russian Central Orchestra of the Ministry of Defense Band honored Parenteau by requesting that he conduct the combined U.S./Russian band for a remembrance song.
After the ceremony, both bands marched to Pobeda Square and performed a concert for hundreds of citizens of Sakhalin.
"The ceremony and concert were powerful experiences for me. Russian and American military musicians standing side by side making music together helped me understand how we are the same and that we can benefit from working together," said Sergeant Robert Carmical, 25 ID bandsman and Texas native. "Really that is what the entire trip was about, using music as a bridge to connect people of different cultures," he added.