Hungarian Ambassador's Band Rocks on for Wounded Troops
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 8, 2005 For an amateur musician and a guy with a doctorate in political science, Andras Simonyi plays a pretty mean guitar. He can carry a tune as well.
Hungarian ambassador to the United States Andras Simonyi, left, and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, formerly of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, perform at a tribute concert for wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, June 7. Photo by Steven Smith
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Simonyi, the Hungarian ambassador to the United States, and his rock band, The Coalition of the Willing, played a tribute concert for wounded servicemembers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here June 7.
The event was staged in the grassy courtyard of the Mologne House hotel on the Walter Reed campus and was preceded by a Hungarian goulash dinner.
The concert was just a small token of the band's appreciation for the troops fighting in the war on terrorism, Simonyi said.
"The war on terror is not just a war on America, it is a war on all of us," Simonyi said. "Hungary was one of the first countries to support the real coalition of the willing. We have to be grateful for the men and women who are on the ground fighting."
Simonyi's bandmates included guitarists Lincoln Bloomfield, the former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs; Daniel Poneman, special assistant to the president from 1993 through 1996, who now is a principal at the Scowcroft Group; and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, formerly of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. Bob McNally was on drums and Jim Ehinger played the keyboard.
The United Service Organizations of Metropolitan Washington was the event's key organizer.
Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Farmer, Walter Reed commander, made opening remarks, thanking the hundreds of people in attendance for coming.
"It is my privilege to welcome all of you to this great event on these beautiful grounds. Over the past couple of years we've taken care of well over 4,000 of our nations wounded warriors," Farmer said. "There is great care given to those great Americans."
Farmer then introduced Air Force Lt. Gen Norton Schwartz, director of the Joint Staff.
Schwartz said Simonyi represents the level commitment of America's friends and allies, and he thanked the wounded troops who have "sacrificed more than most of us."
The band kicked off the concert with the 1960s classic "Secret Agent Man." They proceeded to play many other famous covers, such as Jimi Hendrix's "Fire," and one of Simonyi's favorite songs, Steve Winwood's "Dear Mr. Fantasy," as well as The Who's "I Can See for Miles."
Simonyi has been a lifelong lover of music, especially rock 'n' roll. While growing up in communist Hungary, he zealously listened to forbidden radio stations such as Radio Free Europe and Radio Luxemburg, he said.
Simonyi said rock music helped foster the end of communism in Europe by loosening up attitudes in communist societies.
"Rock 'n' roll was our bridge to the free world," he said. Hungary became a democracy in 1990 after 40 years of communist rule.
In 1999, while serving as the Hungarian representative to NATO in Brussels, Belgium, Simonyi teamed up with his then American counterpart and current U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, to form the band Combined Joint Task Force.
Shortly after arriving in Washington as ambassador in 2002, Simonyi helped form The Coalition of the Willing. Vershbow plays with the band whenever he's in town, Simonyi said.
Throughout the concert, Poneman and Bloomfield read e-mail messages from troops stationed overseas. The e-mail messages thanked the USO and the American people for their support.
Baxter said supporting the troops is essential to winning the war on terrorism.
"We as a country need to be unified. That doesn't mean we can't have differing opinion, but supporting our military is extremely important," Baxter said. "Those who fight for us are the ones who make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom."
Baxter has found a new career as a consultant to the U.S. military. One of his areas of expertise is missile defense.
Most of the wounded troops are far too young to remember the songs played at the concert, but they enjoyed the show nonetheless.
1st Lt. Ryan Hollin, 24, was one of them. He lost his right leg below the knee while serving with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.
"I think it's really cool that the ambassador and the band came out here to play at Walter Reed. A lot of these troops just got back from Iraq, and it helps to get this kind of support," Hollin said.