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Air Force Academy Band visits Father Mallaghan's Orphanage in Grenada

VICTORIA, Grenada -- Master Sgt. Jeremy Laukhuf, the bass player with the U.S. Air Force Academy Band “Blue Steel” performs in the park in Victoria, Grenada, June 1.  Blue Steel spent the day with orphans from Father Mallaghan’s Home for Boys before performing a public concert in the center of the village.  The community outreach event is part of Operation Southern Partner, an Air Forces Southern-led event aimed at strengthening partnerships with nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus through mil-to-mil subject matter exchanges.  In addition to the exchange program, Airmen also had the opportunity to volunteer at various charitable and community organizations in each host nation. (Photo courtesy of Sagar Pathak of HorizontalRain.com)

VICTORIA, Grenada -- Master Sgt. Jeremy Laukhuf, the bass player with the U.S. Air Force Academy Band “Blue Steel” performs in the park in Victoria, Grenada, June 1. Blue Steel spent the day with orphans from Father Mallaghan’s Home for Boys before performing a public concert in the center of the village. The community outreach event is part of Operation Southern Partner, an Air Forces Southern-led event aimed at strengthening partnerships with nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus through mil-to-mil subject matter exchanges. In addition to the exchange program, Airmen also had the opportunity to volunteer at various charitable and community organizations in each host nation. (Photo courtesy of Sagar Pathak of HorizontalRain.com)

VICTORIA, Grenada -- Tech Sgt. Victoria Bruyette embraces a young boy at Father Mallaghan’s Home for Boys during a community outreach event June 1 at the home for orphaned and abused children.  Blue Steel spent the day with boys at the home before performing a public concert in the center of the village.  The community outreach event is part of Operation Southern Partner, an Air Forces Southern-led event aimed at strengthening partnerships with nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus through mil-to-mil subject matter exchanges.  In addition to the exchange program, Airmen also had the opportunity to volunteer at various charitable and community organizations in each host nation.  (Photo courtesy of Sagar Pathak of HorizontalRain.com)

VICTORIA, Grenada -- Tech Sgt. Victoria Bruyette embraces a young boy at Father Mallaghan’s Home for Boys during a community outreach event June 1 at the home for orphaned and abused children. Blue Steel spent the day with boys at the home before performing a public concert in the center of the village. The community outreach event is part of Operation Southern Partner, an Air Forces Southern-led event aimed at strengthening partnerships with nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus through mil-to-mil subject matter exchanges. In addition to the exchange program, Airmen also had the opportunity to volunteer at various charitable and community organizations in each host nation. (Photo courtesy of Sagar Pathak of HorizontalRain.com)

VICTORIA, Grenada -- Caretakers, children, volunteers and Airmen from the U.S. Air Force Academy Band “Blue Steel” pose for a group photograph in Victoria, Grenada, June 1.  Blue Steel spent the day with orphans from Father Mallaghan’s Home for Boys before performing a public concert in the center of the village.  The community outreach event is part of Operation Southern Partner, an Air Forces Southern-led event aimed at strengthening partnerships with nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus through mil-to-mil subject matter exchanges.  In addition to the exchange program, Airmen also had the opportunity to volunteer at various charitable and community organizations in each host nation.(Photo courtesy of Sagar Pathak of HorizontalRain.com)

VICTORIA, Grenada -- Caretakers, children, volunteers and Airmen from the U.S. Air Force Academy Band “Blue Steel” pose for a group photograph in Victoria, Grenada, June 1. Blue Steel spent the day with orphans from Father Mallaghan’s Home for Boys before performing a public concert in the center of the village. The community outreach event is part of Operation Southern Partner, an Air Forces Southern-led event aimed at strengthening partnerships with nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus through mil-to-mil subject matter exchanges. In addition to the exchange program, Airmen also had the opportunity to volunteer at various charitable and community organizations in each host nation.(Photo courtesy of Sagar Pathak of HorizontalRain.com)

VICTORIA, Grenada -- As Operation Southern Partner military exchanges began Monday in Grenada, a group of Airmen from the Air Force Academy band traveled across the island to meet a special group of young boys familiar with the men and women of the U.S. Air Force -- and excited to meet the newest Airmen to visit the island.

The Air Force Academy Band "Blue Steel" spent the day with children at the Father Mallaghan's Home for Boys in the town of Victoria as part of community outreach efforts taking place while military exchanges are conducted with the Royal Grenada Police Force. In April, Airmen from the 33rd Fighter Wing visited the home for abandoned and abused boys while F-15 Eagle aircraft were parked at the international airport to support the Summit of the Americas.

"We heard about these deserving children so we had to make time to visit and keep our promise to stop by whenever the Air Force is on the island," said Master Sgt. Jeremy Laukhuf, Blue Steel's director and lead bass player. "Whether it's performing music or just taking time to play sports with these boys...today is about making lasting memories for everyone involved."

At first, the Air Force bandsmen and the boys living at the facility approached each other with trepidation. The children seemed unsure of what to make of the Airmen, while the visitors searched for common ground. A strong rain had changed the morning's plans, preventing the boys from showcasing their cricket skills. The Blue Steel drummer, Tech Sgt. Henrique De Almeida, was the first to bring the groups together. He began to drum with his hands a simple beat on a table in the center of the room. One of the teenage boys joined in; then another, and another. Before long, the entire room was filled with a rowdy jam session as ward and caretakers alike sang along while Sgt. De Almeida and his new drum team made ever more complex beats. The noise grew so loud, neighbors and stray dogs gathered around the home to find out what was going on inside.

The Father Mallaghan's Home for Boys is sponsored by the Catholic Church in Grenada. During the morning, Airmen were able to tour the historic church located across the street from the building and meet with the island's Bishop and the priest in charge of the facility.

As the rain subsided, the Airmen moved outside to play basketball and soccer with the children in a nearby park. Some of the boys chose to learn more about the Air Force by reading copies of Airman Magazine with the visitors and quizzing them on every photo, caption and detail. The Blue Steel sound engineer was assisted by would-be roadies who helped to set up speakers and instruments for an afternoon concert in the center of the village.

"After playing games all morning and into the afternoon, we were sweaty, hot and hungry," said Sgt. Laukhuf. "So the U.S. Embassy staff brought lunch for everyone and we cooled off before starting the show....then it was our chance to share our love of music with the entire community."

The Grenadian Minister for Social Development, Ms. Glynis Roberts, stopped by to observe the interaction just as the show kicked off. The concert quickly drew a crowd from surrounding homes. Children helped to complete songs by playing tambourines or singing verses into the microphone. In the stands, people danced and sang along for the entire two-hour show. The finale included the boys from Father Mallaghan's Home playing drums, assisting the piano player and improvising the "Island Slide" with the lead singer.

"We've only been here for a short time and we're already making friends," said Tech Sgt. Victoria Bruyette, the group's lead singer as several of the young boys held her hands. "It feels like we've really connected with these beautiful boys through the international language of music."

The day's activities concluded as the boys helped the band load their equipment and clean up lunch plates. As the van pulled away, dozens of small hands tapped the vehicle's windows to express their gratitude for the day's events.

The band sat quiet for a moment until the lead singer spoke for everyone on the bus when she asked, "So, when can we come back?"

Operation Southern Partner exchanges last through 13 June. The Air Force Academy Band will continue to meet new audiences as they play scheduled community events in Grenada, Trinidad, Jamaica and Belize.

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