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NEWS | Aug. 4, 2014

'Stripes with Pipes:' Langley's own choir group

By Senior Airman Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

In a small martini lounge nestled along a quiet street on the outskirts of Virginia Beach, smooth melodies trickle out into the late evening sunset. Within, a group of singers crowd the small stage, pouring out relaxing tunes for their guests.

These singers left that night with not a cent in their pockets. Not because their performance was subpar, but because they hold themselves to a higher value. These singers are U.S. Air Force Airmen from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia,who gave their earnings to the Wounded Warriors Project.

And that is only one of their gigs that week.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Bigler, 10th Intelligence Squadron security manager, leads the "Stripes with Pipes" choir group and said he fully intends to continue sharing the Air Force message through hours of practice and performance.

"I grew up in a choir family - both my parents performed for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - so I wanted to bring this passion to the Air Force once I joined," said Bigler. "I am astounded at how many people want to participate, and more so, how many times we are requested!"

The success of the Stripes did not happen overnight, however. When Bigler arrived at Langley in January 2010, there was no choir group at all, and he wasn't willing to let that continue.

"My last duty station had a choir group, so I spent about a year looking for one here," explained Bigler. "After searching, I decided to put out a message for volunteers who would like to sing in their off time."

Four other Airmen from the 10th IS signed on and Bigler got to work in February 2011. Originally, Bigler didn't expect to perform at Air Force events, so he gave his team a few small parts to rehearse without any expectations. When it came time to practice, though, Bigler was blown away.

"All of them were more or less spot-on with their parts," said Bigler. "Most of the team couldn't read music, so they had to listen to me sing their part on a recording and memorize every pitch, every crescendo, every pause - it was amazing to see them come into practice and pretty much sing their whole part. Every single one of them had to have spent hours just listening and singing on their way to work, going home, and so on. Their dedication was remarkable."

With such a devoted group of performers with which to work, Bigler knew he could go a step farther.

"The question was no longer 'Can we do it?' Now, I was wondering what opportunities we had in front of us," said Bigler. "We had the talent and drive, now we just needed somewhere to present our skills."

Luckily for the Stripes, their calendar didn't stay empty for long. After a few events at their squadron, word spread like wildfire. The "Stripes with Pipes" was on every commander's retirement wish list, every change of command and even the occasional promotion party.

"By 2012, we were doing a show a week, minimum," said Bigler. "We would rehearse once before each event and then do a warmup before performing. Sometimes we would work two events, and by this time I had more people so we would mix and match. It was a really exciting time."

Bigler and the Stripes weren't exclusive to the base, however. In addition to singing in support of the Wounded Warrior Project, Bigler has also performed at two Norfolk Tides baseball games, charity events and other venues.

They even had the opportunity to sing the language of love in February 2012 and 13 with "Valentine Grams," which Bigler said are his personal favorites.

"On Valentine's day, a portion of the group took a day off and we went around base singing little love tunes for only $5," said Bigler. "All the proceeds went back to our squadron's booster club, so we were helping out the team and a lot of people really got a kick out of the songs."

During the Valentine Grams event in 2012, Bigler said he saw what he believes truly exemplifies the impact of his performance, both as a professional vocalist and as an Airman.

"We were eating at the dining facility near the flightline, and one of my team members saw a food services worker who was having a bad Valentine's Day," explained Bigler. "He suggested we give her a free song, so we walked up and just belted out a tune. She absolutely lit up, and the whole room gathered around.