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Heartland of America Band plays Sioux Falls VA Hospital

Members of the Heartland of America Band's Raptor ensemble perform at the Sioux Falls Veterans Health Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Oct. 11, 2017. Raptor performed several sets for veterans receiving care at the center.

Members of the Heartland of America Band's Raptor ensemble perform at the Sioux Falls Veterans Health Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Oct. 11, 2017. Raptor performed several sets for veterans receiving care at the center.

A veteran receiving care at the Sioux Falls Veterans Health Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, joins in an impromptu duet with Master Sgt. Rebecca Packard, a vocalist with the Heartland of America Band's Raptor ensemble Oct. 11, 2017. Raptor performed several sets for veterans at the center.

A veteran receiving care at the Sioux Falls Veterans Health Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, joins in an impromptu duet with Master Sgt. Rebecca Packard, a vocalist with the Heartland of America Band's Raptor ensemble Oct. 11, 2017. Raptor performed several sets for veterans at the center.

Nolan Miller, a veteran receiving care at the Sioux Falls Veterans Health Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, watches a performance by the Heartland of America Band's Raptor ensemble Oct. 11, 2017. Miller served in the Air Force from 1951-1955.

Nolan Miller, a veteran receiving care at the Sioux Falls Veterans Health Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, watches a performance by the Heartland of America Band's Raptor ensemble Oct. 11, 2017. Miller served in the Air Force from 1951-1955.

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota --

The Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble performed at the Sioux Falls Veterans Health Care Center Oct. 11 as part of their week-long tour through South Dakota and Iowa.

 

The band played in three dining halls, as well as in several hallways in wards for former service members without the mobility to make it to the dining halls.

 

Diana Larsen, the rehab services coordinator for the care center and a music therapist, said performances like this are extremely valuable for the veterans.

 

“Music provides community,” she said. “Some of these veterans rarely come out of their rooms. They just go to therapy, and that’s it – but they come out for this. This provides that community, recollection, emotional response, physical response – people were tapping their feet – it’s a total sensory experience. It’s wonderful.”

 

Nolan Miller, who served in the Air Force from 1951-1955, said the concert he observed was very good.

 

“I really enjoyed that,” he said. “They should have played longer!”

 

Miller’s wife, Evelyn, said she and Nolan have been spending a lot of time at the care center over the past year as Nolen’s health has wavered.

 

Evelyn said she liked the big band songs Raptor played.

 

“We knew those years ago,” she said. “[Nolan]’s got dementia, but he loves music.”

 

Master Sgt. Jerry Birkenmeier, a guitar player with the band, said performing at places like Veterans Affairs care centers is extremely important.

 

“It lifts the spirits of the veterans who are there, and we also talk to them after we play our set,” he said. “It brings back fond memories of when they served. Most of them are older, if not elderly, and I think there’s a good feeling instilled in them when they see a younger generation serving in the military.”

 

Master Sgt. Rebecca Packard, one of Raptor’s vocalists, was surprised when a veteran at the care center joined her unexpectedly in a duet.

 

“I would have to say, that’s one of the coolest moments I’ve experienced in my entire Air Force career,” Packard said. “I’ve never had that happen before, and the look on his face when he started singing with me was what got me. Doing this thing together, making it something we’re both contributing to – and letting him take the lead and do what seemed to bring him some joy was pretty incredible.”