WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR BASE, Ohio – Rock ‘n’ rollers are rebels. The Mavericks. They don’t take authority well. It’s their reputation, anyway.
The military is all about compliance. Be in uniform. Respect for authority and chain of command.
So how does it work for a military unit whose mission is to rock and roll?
For Flight One, the Air Force Band of Flight rock band at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, it seems to be working pretty well.
Technology. Sgt. Joseph Whitt, the band’s bassist, acknowledges that some musicians struggle to adjust to a chain of command and use it to communicate at the military level. But that’s rarely a problem at the time of the show.
“We kind of blur the lines between that and going on stage and performing,” Whitt said. “I would use our singer as a great example. She leads this group with her voice on the microphone, but she has people who surpass her behind her to support and follow her.
Flight One does approximately 50 shows per year for a variety of audiences, and more with the entire Air Force Band of Flight. It serves a community outreach function by performing for free at local schools, fairs, amusement parks and other events, such as the recent Centerville “Party in the Park”.
He also participates in military ceremonies and events in support of the 88th Air Base Wing and the National Museum of the US Air Force.
Technology. Sgt. Greg Pflugh, the band’s musical director and saxophonist, explains that Flight One’s mission is simple: “to honor, inspire and connect” with veterans, the military and the public.
The Flight One singer is Senior Airman MeLan Smartt, who calls himself a free spirit.
Smartt says she has been “flirting” with the military since high school, when she was in the Army JROTC. She was in the Air Force ROTC in college while graduating in music, but the birth of a son in her senior year halted plans for a commission.
Instead, she became a high school music teacher. But she found the opportunities limited because her degree was in music performance rather than music education.
“I wanted to do something else,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what.”
One day on social media, she saw something that changed her life.
“I saw a flyer for voice auditions for the Air Force, and it was like these two worlds just came together right in front of me on the page,” Smartt said.
For the Air Force Band program, musicians must audition after audition. Auditions are held for specific positions and candidates try before joining the Air Force.
Smartt has submitted recordings to the Band of the West at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and the Band of Mid-America at Scott AFB, Illinois.
Scott invited her for an in-person interview and liked what she heard.
“It was on site,” Smartt said. “They immediately said, ‘Oh, we love you. You are engaged!'”
By the time Smartt was able to enlist and undergo basic training, the Air Force decided it needed her more at Wright-Patterson AFB.
The Band of Flight is one of the smallest groups in the Air Force, said Whitt, and the lack of depth makes it more important that vacancies are filled quickly.
“This group is seen as a group with a critical workforce. It must be inhabited because of its size, ”he said.
Now Smartt finds himself the lead woman of the rock group.
“I love him,” she said. “It’s something I was born to do.”
She recognizes the pressure, however.
“I just have to find a way to get involved in the mission, because the mission is the reason we are here,” she said. “It’s a mix between being me, because being me is important, but also being an ‘us’.
“Being a singer can be scary because without me there is no show. If I get sick or sneeze a little too hard or cry, whatever it is, and I lose my voice, I let the team down.
Smartt is a self-proclaimed “maverick” and for Whitt, the group’s classification NCO, that’s okay.
“Because I’m the same way,” he said. “For MeLan to say, ‘I’m a nonconformist but I’m in uniform,’ that means she wants to be in uniform. She chooses to be in uniform. She doesn’t need to be in uniform.
“She said, ‘OK, I’m putting this thing on today. Let’s go make some music. Let’s go do the mission.
Later this year, Flight One will go on tour. But for this rock band, that means come down and play for the aviators and military personnel deployed in the Middle East.
Some things are just plain better than playing in a sold-out arena.
“In the army, we are part of a team. We can build a team, ”said Whitt. “If I talk to my brothers, or someone in the civilian world who never builds a team where they work, and they’re not part of a group, they have no idea how powerful that is. “