MSGT T.C. Cottrell plays a great guitar during an audience in St. John's, Antigua.

MSGT T.C. Cottrell, USAF, plays a great guitar before an audience in St. John's, Antigua.

Besides bringing medical diplomacy to the Caribbean & Latin America, the USNS COMFORT is delivering some outstanding music diplomacy as an added bonus. Wondering what music diplomacy is? Wonder no more. Music diplomacy is one of the many cousins of cultural diplomacy and is best summed up The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy:

It is difficult to overstate the value of music in bringing people from different cultural backgrounds together for a common cause. Music has an almost limitless potential to unite both musicians and listeners regardless of their age, cultural background, language spoken, or skin colour.

I agree and I think it was a brilliant move to have musicians onboard USNS COMFORT for Continuing Promise ’09.

The task of uniting musicians and host-nation listeners alike on this 4-month humanitarian and goodwill mission fell to the 17 members of the USAF SOUTH Band under the command of Captain Cristina Moore-Urrutia, USAF, who also serves as the band’s conductor.

In a USNI Blog exclusive, Captain Moore-Urrutia said, “I think it has been an awesome experience. It is the first time an Air Force band has been onboard for one of these missions. I think the band has been just the right fit – a versatile group that can play from rag time to jazz to rock& roll to the latest Latin charts and some standard marches to boot.”

One of their most memorable performances to date was at a women’s prison inthe Dominican Republic. According to Moore-Urrutia, the audience was “incredibly receptive and obviously enjoyed the music very much. It was wonderful to see them respond to the music.”

For each stop on the 7-nation tour, the USAF SOUTH bands plays before a wide range of audiences on any given day. On the day that I caught up with them, they were playing outside the Multi-Cultural Center in St. John’s Antigua & Barbuda. While hundreds of patients were waiting in line, the band performed a concert which helped make the wait that much better. The talent in the band is impressive is all i can say – American Idol better watch out for the likes of TSGT Keisha Gwin-Goodin, USAF Band vocalist who you will hear from on this blog in future posts.

My gut instinct tells me that this is not the last time you will see and hear an USAF band on a navy ship! Gut instinct don’t fail me now.

BZ to the USAF SOUTH Band for vindicating time and time again Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s maxim that “music is the universal language of mankind.”

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power

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  • RickWilmes

    The USAF South band’s most memorable experience was playing at a women’s prison? 🙁 How am I supposed to take this stuff seriously?

    Last night the news did a peice on the fact that hospitals are seeing a rise in child abuse cases. Officials believe the rise is directly connected to the recession. Will the USAF South band’s next memorable performance be at a prison housing convicted child abusers.

    What are our priorities and how will ‘music diplomacy’ serve those priorites?

    Playing music at women’s prisons should not be a priorty.

  • Did somebody just post a comment?

  • Fouled Anchor

    No, but I’m gonna.

    Jim, thanks again for documenting this mission for us. I will say that I’m a little surprised about the band at the women’s prison, trying to see the direct, immediate benefit. But, I’m not hung up on it.

    Having a background in foreign cultures and culture in general, I appreciate this post and the quote from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. There is no doubt that music can bring people of different backgrounds together – I think there are examples of that in our own society. And in the case of COMFORT, it sounds like it delivered another aspect to the mission and the services delivered to the folks in these important areas of our hemisphere.

  • Byron

    Jim, pay no mind to the afore-not-mentioned low signal to noise ratio 😉

  • RickWilmes

    @Fouled Anchor

    Being surprised is just one aspect of looking at this problem. You should be hung up on the issue. Personally, I am outraged.

    Let’s look at a recent example discussed on this blog. The same principles apply but particular concretes are different. The example is the faulty hatch on the Bonefish. Are you surprised but not “hung up” on the fact that the OOD did not know that the mechanism traveled a quarter turn too far?

    How many people in charge did not know that the USAF South band spent it’s most memorable time playing for a women’s prison.

    Let us not forget the Buell Fabrication. All different examples but the same not “hung up” attitude.

  • Fouled Anchor

    You choose your outrage and hang ups…I’ll choose mine.

  • RickWilmes

    That is why we are here. My question is why not use the USAF South band to play at the funerals for those service members who have lost their lives? Instead of playing at a women’s prison, the band could have played at the funerals of those soldiers who were shot by the troubled sargeant who was suffering from the effects of multiple deployments.

    I will say it again. It is about priorities being met with a continuing decrease in resources. Playing music at a prison should not be a priority. If the band members are looking for something to do, why not provide the respite care the wives of service members so desparetly need.

  • Byron

    Oh.My.God. “The Buell Fabrication”. This is getting to be a recurring bad dream.

  • RickWilmes


    For some people, facts and reality are bad dreams that is why they engage in evasion or fall victim to empiricism.

  • RickWilmes

    Burma Shave:

    [moderator deleted comment – no ad hominem attacks re USAF Band]

  • Byron

    Rick, you get a bad grade at the Academy over a paper dealing with Buell? Argue with an instructor and lose? Sorta sounds like it.

  • RickWilmes

    Byron, the topic is medical diplomacy. If you have something to say about the topic than say it. Otherwise follow your own advice about ignoring me.

  • Music for a captive audience can bring out the best in both the listeners and the performers.

    Go listen to Johnny Cash’s epic Folsom and San Quentin recordings, and tell me if those convicts don’t–to this very day–have a soft spot in their heart for the guy. If I’m looking to make an impression, a concert for a rather sensory-deprived captive population is probably a pretty good way to do it.

  • RickWilmes

    Maybe the band should be playing at Gitmo or Abu Ghraib. I am not convinced that women in a prison in a foreign country are potentially future terrorists of the US.

  • Thanks Byron, Fouled Anchor, and Springboard for the intelligent comments.

  • > RickWilmes
    “I am not convinced that women in a prison in a foreign country are potentially future terrorists of the US.”
    Neither are we.

    “I will say it again. It is about priorities being met with a continuing decrease in resources. Playing music at a prison should not be a priority.”
    So what list of priorities do you propose?

    Well, going your way, what’s the need of even playing/listening music in our world? Should this human activity be banned – such a waste of time and efficiency, regarding your pointed “decrease in resources”?

  • RickWilmes


    I am not against music or playing it to prisoners. The fundamental question is whether or not it should be done by the military at taxpayers expense.

  • Libby


    As a spouse of one of the bandsman, I can say that you are focusing in on the wrong thing. The women’s prison was just an opinion of the band. Having first-hand knowledge, unlike you, I spoke with my husband who in the beginning didn’t like the idea either. This was not their choice. They were requested to do this and amongst their many other obligations, they obliged.

    Like you, they went in with many judgments and preconceived notions. I think the reason it was most memorable is that those preconceived notions were blown away. The prisoners reciprocated by putting on plays about their stories and how they wound up in prison and did a fashion show, which impressed the bandsmen because for just one moment, they set aside their judgments and saw these women as people and their stories touched their hearts. It is easy to assume that these women are the scourge of society. Living in the greatest country in the world, we are quick to assume that these women in prison actually broke a law to get in there. You have no idea what these women are in prison for. Some countries imprison women just for looking at another man.

    My husband has had the honor of playing at hundreds of funerals. As a matter of fact they played one on the boat. So, I hope you’re happy that you’re taxpaying dollars are put to good use.

    I am offended that you would minimize my husband’s and his fellow bandsmen contribution to this mission by griping about the waste of taxpayer’s money on one small gig out of hundreds. I can think of many misuses of taxpayer’s money to get bent about. It is people like you who always have something to say about things they have no clue about that makes me just wonder how much time you have on your hands to argue with people about this issue. As a former bandsman myself, I have spent countless hours defending the ignorance of people like you when it comes to music diplomacy.

    Find something else worth your time…

  • Lola

    Libby, thank you! I am a patriotic, civilian supporter of the Air Force bands, and I have seen the long hours of practice, travel, performance, and organizational duties of band members, usually with little to know appreciation. Thank you for your time in service, for the time you miss with your husband, and for your support of him and the important work he does. The USAF Band of the South is working VERY hard on the Comfort, and I salute them all. Only 42 days left!!

  • Libby,

    You are a rock star!!! thank you for your comments. A+ intelligent discussion. Remind me never to debate you 🙂
    Thanks again

  • Ray Kilmer

    Libby, (I am here because I am a prior Marine)

    Your dispute of Rick’s statements overlooks his primary complaint (which was not against your husband’s band) all together and it also seems you have attempted to fabricate something that he did not state. No where in Rick’s post can anyone read that he is attempting to minimize the efforts of band members nor music.

    The Air Force (which includes all the bands under it’s direction) is a part of the Department of Defense not the Department of State. The goals of both departments are totally different and require different agendas. If someone wants to be a diplomat they should join the State Department and do all they can to keep diplomacy open between their respective countries. But, the Department of Defense is what a country uses when diplomacy leaves the stage as military members are supposed to be warriors not diplomats. Military members are supposed to release the hounds of hell upon their enemies and not sing “Kumbaya” with them.

    So, I think that having a military band act as diplomats is a waste of their time and resources. Let the State Department worry about diplomacy and let us focus our troops (to include band members) on winning wars and let our military bands bring up the morale and welfare of military members, past and present, and their family members.

    And as long as our fellow country members think that song can bring people of two different social philosophies together we will stay in the mess we are in with a war that keeps going and going and going.

  • Hi, that is a awesome post. Really liked reading this. Thanks