East Grand Forks Senior High School students took a break from classes Tuesday afternoon to watch a U.S. Air Force band play.
Raptor, the Air Force's commercial music ensemble, played a range of Top 40s hits for students gathered in the school's old gym. Students, faculty and staff spilled out of the bleachers and onto the gym floor as the seven-member group performed tunes from the likes of Ariana Grande, Keith Urban, Selena Gomez and others. At one point, Scott Koberinski, the school's activities director, jumped on stage to dance when the band played "Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars.
"You've been a fantastic audience so far," vocalist and Airman First Class Aliyah Richling told students midway through the performance. She said everyone has days "where things don't go our way, where people treat us poorly. ... But it is in those moments that we learn to keep going, and in the Air Force, we call that resiliency."
Led by Richling's strong vocals, the band then dove into its rendition of "Bulletproof" by Sia. The group closed out the hourlong set with Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling."
Stationed at the Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Raptor is in the midst of a tour of the Upper Midwest. Before playing in East Grand Forks, the band played in Minot, Devils Lake and Bismarck, Richling said. The band is scheduled to play in Fargo on Wednesday.
"Our mission is to go out and inspire and honor and connect - anything that we can do to connect the public to the military is our mission," Richling told the Herald after the performance. "When we honor, we honor our veterans mostly, and those that are currently serving, as well."
The band's high school visits also provide recruitment opportunities, said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Reeser, a Grand Forks-based recruiter who attended Tuesday's performance.
"There are a lot of different careers in the Air Force, from dog handlers to being in the band," Reeser said. "I'm an Arabic linguist by trade, so there's a lot of different opportunities."
Back in fall, East Grand Forks Senior High leaders received an email from Raptor about a potential visit, said Principal Brian Loer.
Loer then hashed out a date for the group to play. For some students, the event might mark their first exposure to live music, said Assistant Principal Bruce Nelson.
It could be some high schoolers' first exposure to the military, too.
"More often than not," Raptor tours in places where people don't recognize the uniform, Richling said.
"We just love coming out to these communities and interacting with the high school students," she added.