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News | Feb. 21, 2023

Ending on a high note

By Spc. Kelly Boyer

On a hot Saturday afternoon in El Salvador, the New Hampshire Army National Guard’s 39th Army Band opened the first of two concerts at the Illopango Airshow with a cover of The Romantics, “What I Like About You.”

Talk about starting off with a bang.

As the flipping and twirling of aircraft echoed overhead, a sea of spectators gathered so quickly at the front of the stage, event organizers grew concerned no one was paying attention to the stunt pilots.

By the time the 39th wrapped up their second performance on the following night, they had played for an estimated 50,000 people.

“I have never played for that many people before,” said Spc. Lauren Dennett, a saxophonist with the 39th. “I have never seen anything like that.”

The same could be said for many of the spectators. After the Feb. 4 and 5 shows, attendees rushed the stage for selfies with band members. Father and son Jose and Diego Martinez waited in line to take a photo with vocalist Spc. Victoria Fatukasi.

“My dad and I want to thank you for your service,” Diego said to the singer. “He also wanted to say that he loves the way you sing. This was our first time seeing the band, and we really enjoyed it, especially when you played Guns and Roses.”

It was the third time in five years the 39th has played at the airshow under the long-standing State Partnership Program between the NH Guard and Central American republic. During the band's first appearance in 2019, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador at the time, Jean Manes, performed a duet of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl.”

“The most important thing about the band's performance was the ability to use American rock and roll to connect with a trusted ally,” said NH Adjutant Gen. David Mikolaities, who made the six-hour flight with the band on a KC-46A from Pease Air National Guard Base. “It was fantastic to see the amazing response the Salvadorans gave them and the number of people who stayed to watch.”

“They were exceptional,” he added.

For more than 20 years, the NHNG and Fuerza Armada de El Salvador have forged a partnership built on collaboration and professionalism. While the dancing never stopped, the citizen-soldier musicians were well aware of their role beyond just entertainers.

“I think it’s important that the people of El Salvador see us as positive role models and know about us, know about the United States, and know that we are here for them,” said Dennett who is a music teacher at Strong Foundations Charter School in Pembroke and Sherwood Middle School in Shrewsbury, Mass.

1st Sgt. Gregg Chapman reiterated the importance of his unit’s humanitarian mission. “We are helping to build a bond between New Hampshire and the community (here),” he said.

Valeria Franca, a Salvadoran paramedic working the event, wanted to take a photo with the band after their Feb. 4 set.

“I really think the music they play is something amazing,” she said. “I like the Army because I am here to help people and they are here to help El Salvador.”