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Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble reaches high schoolers

Airman 1st Class Aliyah Richling, right, a vocalist with the Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble, right, pauses while singing with high schoolers at Sioux Center High School in Sioux Center, Iowa, Oct. 13, 2017. The ensemble partnered with local recruiters to reach high school students with the Air Force mission on the tour.

Airman 1st Class Aliyah Richling, right, a vocalist with the Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble, right, pauses while singing with high schoolers at Sioux Center High School in Sioux Center, Iowa, Oct. 13, 2017. The ensemble partnered with local recruiters to reach high school students with the Air Force mission on the tour.

Airman 1st Class Sierra Bailey, a vocalist with the Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble, sings to students at Lennox High School in Lennox, South Dakota, Oct. 12, 2017. The ensemble partnered with local recruiters to teach high school students about the Air Force mission on the tour.

Airman 1st Class Sierra Bailey, a vocalist with the Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble, sings to students at Lennox High School in Lennox, South Dakota, Oct. 12, 2017. The ensemble partnered with local recruiters to teach high school students about the Air Force mission on the tour.

Airman 1st Class Aliyah Richling, a vocalist with the Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble, sings to students at Madison High School in Madison, South Dakota, Oct. 10, 2017. The ensemble partnered with local recruiters to teach high school students about the Air Force mission on the tour.

Airman 1st Class Aliyah Richling, a vocalist with the Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble, sings to students at Madison High School in Madison, South Dakota, Oct. 10, 2017. The ensemble partnered with local recruiters to teach high school students about the Air Force mission on the tour.

Master Sgt. Jerry Birkenmeier, left, and Staff Sgt. Alberto Rosado Perez, right, both guitarists with the Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble, play to students at Sioux Center High School in Sioux Center, Iowa, Oct. 13, 2017. The ensemble partnered with local recruiters to reach high school students with the Air Force mission on the tour.

Master Sgt. Jerry Birkenmeier, left, and Staff Sgt. Alberto Rosado Perez, right, both guitarists with the Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble, play to students at Sioux Center High School in Sioux Center, Iowa, Oct. 13, 2017. The ensemble partnered with local recruiters to reach high school students with the Air Force mission on the tour.

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota --

The Heartland of America Band’s Raptor ensemble toured South Dakota and Iowa Oct. 8 – 13, performing at various high schools and the Sioux Falls Veterans Health Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Raptor partnered with recruiting offices for their high school performances, allowing recruiters to connect with students in a unique way while also showing the students a side of the Air Force many were unaware of.

Airman 1st Class Aliyah Richling, a vocalist, was touring with Raptor for the first time on this trip. She said visiting the high schools reaffirmed the band’s place in the Air Force for her.

“Our mission is truly to connect and inspire and honor,” she said. “On a day-to-day basis, we don’t get to connect with our audience in that way because we’re in the office. Sometimes it’s easy to forget what we do and why that’s important. But the moment that we step off base and head out into a community that has maybe never seen someone in uniform before – much less a band person – it changes my own perspective on what our mission is.”

Richling said the band helps show a different side of the military, which could help it appeal to high schoolers who are looking for college-alternatives after graduation.

“Unless you’ve had someone in your family or had a friend who is in the military, it maybe doesn’t occur to you that they’re real people, and that they have families and lives that are outside of the military,” she said. “I think, too, it’s important to remind people that in the Air Force, we aren’t just all pilots, and we aren’t all doing the same jobs. There are so many jobs in the Air Force that have to happen in order for the overall mission to be successful.”

She said she was surprised at the response the band received from the students.

“One of the things that I loved the most was that we got to do audience interactions, and the fact that some of the kids would actually feel comfortable enough to sing a song with me,” Richling said. “There are those kids that I would walk up to not entirely sure if they were enjoying the show. But the moment I would sit down and start singing to them, they can’t help but start smiling, because there’s this person sitting next to you, singing to you. I think those are my favorite reactions. They step outside of their comfort zone and become a bit more vulnerable with us.”

Airman 1st Class Cailyn Ganter, an Airman participating in the Recruiter’s Assistance Program for the Sioux Falls Air Force Recruitment Office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said the band is a key way to get student’s attention for recruiters.

“The fact that the band comes around to schools shows kids there’s more to the Air Force than just airplanes,” she said. “I feel like it’s important to reach out to kids at a young age – let them know there’s more after high school than just college. Reaching out to kids and saying, ‘Hey, it’s not just putting on a uniform and going and getting bad guys – it’s more than that.’ That’s why I went Air Force. I wanted to be part of something greater.