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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia is losing 19 of its 30 military members later this year as part of Air Force restructuring, the group’s commander said Thursday.

Maj. Daniel Price said officials opted to eliminate band slots at Yokota while preserving the 31 at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, and 11 at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Air Force bands around the world will be cut by about 25 percent.

The shakeup at Yokota is expected to begin this summer, with most of the targeted personnel leaving in August, Price said.

“We have hopes that as soon as possible, we’ll be able to add these slots back,” he said. “But every unit facing cutbacks across the Air Force has these hopes. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Yokota’s band essentially will lose all its ceremonial capabilities, he added. Its 11 remaining members will be divided between two ensembles: Seven in the rock band, Pacific Trends; and three in Final Approach, a piano-bass-drums combination that presently has nine performers. The 11th individual at Yokota, a senior master sergeant, will serve as leader of the band, according to Price, who’s slated to depart in June.

U.S. commanders and Embassy defense attaché staffs frequently use the band as a diplomatic tool to build relationships with other nations and augment the mission. At the moment, Elmendorf covers all of Alaska and western Canada, Hickam takes responsibility for Hawaii and Yokota gets everything else, including three bases in Japan, two in South Korea, one on Guam and more than 40 other countries across Asia and the Pacific.

“If we can get out there and shape the environments, build these friendships using music, it helps not only the DOD but the United States,” Price said. “Stated rather simply, we’re kind of like the smile that hides the teeth of the dog. The more we can get out there and smile, the more we can keep from having to use those teeth.”

As officials re-evaluate areas of responsibility, Price said, much of that international effort will shift to the remaining PACAF band parts in Alaska and Hawaii, particularly Elmendorf.

The PACAF Band-Asia hasn’t been forced to cancel any scheduled events, Price said. It’s proceeding with two major trips this year: Pacific Trends is to go to India in March, while Pacific Brass, a brass quintet, is to visit Mongolia for the first time in July.

“We knew this was coming long enough that we scheduled our year accordingly,” he said. “We’re looking after the middle of July at drawing down our ops schedule.”

“Personally, there’s some pain involved, but we have to keep reminding ourselves of the larger, broader reasons why this is happening,” he added. “Unfortunately, I have to leave before the ship sinks, but we have very capable senior enlisted leadership here, so it won’t be a problem.”

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