The Language of Progress

By CPL Daniel Eddy
196th MPAD, 1st Armored Division, USD-C

News story photo
Photo credit: CPL Daniel Eddy
CW2 Bettencourt (right), commander of the division band with 1st Armored Division, United States Division – Center, and a New Bedford, Mass., native, hands a new trumpet to Capt. Hatim, commander of the Iraqi prime minister’s band.
BAGHDAD—Language barriers can sometimes be an obstacle when people from different countries are trying to work together. However members of the division band with 1st Armored Division, United States Division– Center, and the Iraqi prime minister’s band have built a partnership through a universal language— music.

Members of the 1st Armd. Div. band made a day trip Sept. 16 to Baghdad, to the Iraqi Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and were treated to a performance by the Iraqi prime minister’s band and then surprised the Iraqis with musical new instruments including trumpets, clarinets, flutes and drums.

Preparation for the donation began in April when Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Bettencourt, commander of the 1st Armd. Div. band and a New Bedford, Mass., native, first made contact with the Iraqi band. When Bettencourt visited the Iraqi band, he noticed the poor condition of the instruments the Iraqi band members were using and wanted to help. Bettencourt worked tirelessly for months to coordinate the funds necessary to purchase the instruments. The money was drawn from funds designated for projects intended to bolster the resources and capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces. During this time, Bettencourt stayed in contact with the Iraqi band, building friendships and trust.

“A lot of (American Soldiers) have got pretty good personal relationships with quite a few (Iraqis),” Bettencourt said. “I would say this trip is about my 15th or 16th visit with them, and over the time I never promised new instruments. I said, ‘I will see what I can do.’ So they knew we were trying our best, and for them to finally say, ‘Wow the Americans are trying to help out the best way they can,’ and now that we can finally produce those instruments and be able to see the looks on their faces—it was just priceless.”

Bettencourt said during these exchanges, the two bands’ members learned about each country’s cultures and developed enduring relationships, a sentiment shared by his Iraqi counterpart. “This gave us a good chance to exchange culture and to learn more about each other,” said Capt. Hatim, commander with the Iraqi prime minister’s band. “We have been (working) together, and so we have learned a lot from (the Americans) and vice versa. This was a great opportunity for the two sides.”

This partnership marks another milestone of progress as Iraqi Security Forces move closer to securing a more stable and sovereign Iraq. Lt. Col. Cape Zemp, division personnel officer with the 1st Armd. Div., and a Newport News, Va., native, said he wanted to use the band to take part in the division plan to engage with the Iraqis. “These (Iraqis) represent their nation for the visits of high-level dignitaries,”
Zemp said. “Receiving the instruments … allows them to represent their country in a top tier basis, where they couldn’t necessarily do that before.” Zemp said he hopes the 1st Armd. Div. band and the Iraqi prime minister’s band will be able to perform together in the near future, which would be a great way to culminate the relationship when the 1st Armored Division redeploys later this year.

Members of the 1st Armd. Div. band spoke favorably about a potential joint performance with the Iraqi band. “I think it would be cool to actually sit down, and do a concert, and to share the moment,” said Sgt. Sammy Lewis, a tuba player with the 1st Armd. Div. band and a San Antonio native. “You can have some magical moments with music and to share that with a complete stranger from a different country would be an (amazing) experience.” Lewis said music has always been a huge part of Army tradition, and he hopes the Iraqis will learn during their partnership with the 1st Armd. Div. and integrate a band as part of a core foundation of their military forces.

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