SOUTHWEST ASIA, - Surrounded by a sea of darkness, the 28-year-old airman is well aware of the hundreds of eyes watching his every move. He has been in this situation many times before, but somehow, this time feels different.
With quiet composure, he plays the opening notes to the classic rock hit, "Bohemian Rhapsody," his adorers joining his melodic guitar solo with lyrical accompaniment. For a few minutes, everyone is able to forget about the stressors of being downrange and just enjoy some great music.
From the time he was 12 years old, listening to Metallica's "One" for the first time, Air Force Staff Sgt. Israel Poire, a 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron structural journeyman, knew he wanted to play guitar.
"When I embrace the guitar, I feel as if I'm holding the world at my fingertips," said Poire, who favors the fingerstyle technique, in which a guitarist plucks the strings directly with his fingertips, as opposed to flat picking or strumming. "My guitar sings what my heart wants to say."
An Oklahoma Air National Guardsman deployed from the 137th Civil Engineer Squadron at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base, Poire is a full-time college student majoring in biology while pursing his other passion of playing guitar on the side.
Over the last four years, since leaving the active-duty Air Force, the sergeant has performed at a variety of events such as weddings, retirement ceremonies, social gatherings and banquets, and alongside organizations such as the Oklahoma City Arts Council.
"I sometimes hear a song that is so moving and inspirational, I try to envision how it would sound on the guitar," he said. "Most often, the song is performed as an ensemble of musicians and was not meant to be played on guitar. So, if I am to discover how it would sound on a single guitar, there is only one way to find out. This is my joy."
Other times, he said, he realizes he could use a widely popular song in his set list. "It could be considered selling out," he said, "but I try hard to create a diverse set list so I can accommodate all tastes in music. This is the joy for others."
Since arriving in the U.S. Air Forces Central area of responsibility, Poire has yet to put his guitar down, honing his skills at night after a long day's work and performing several shows for his fellow airmen.
"I will always love creating the beautiful sounds that emanate from guitar; my passion for playing will always exist," the Mustang, Okla., native said. "Lately, however, I have pressed to introduce my contribution to the world of fingerstyle guitar. While I will never leave behind a legacy of being the greatest guitarist to ever live, I would like to be remembered as one who helped to advance the genre in some way, particularly by tackling hard rock and recreating the sound in fingerstyle. I would like to be regarded as an ambassador who bridged the diverging styles of music."
The sergeant spends the majority of his time here dealing with the installation's structural components.
"We perform functions such as carpentry, masonry and welding - essentially anything relating to infrastructure," he said. "The Air Force must have infrastructure to accomplish its mission. Consider how effective the Air Force units would be without hangars, runways and general facilities that shelter personnel and equipment. My mission consists of building and/or maintaining all of these."
Now serving on his third deployment since he joined the Air Force eight years ago, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Poire said he is familiar with the sacrifices military members must make in service for their country, including breaking plans made long ago.
"My twin brother, Will, and I have been collaborating on a project for a few years now," he said. "After years of arranging material from other artists and adapting the tunes to solo guitar, we decided to pay tribute to our heroes, Metallica, by arranging their stuff. After working for years on about 25 songs, we projected our completion for April/May of 2010.
"We decided to introduce our work on May 1 and dedicate the entire month to our new project, which we dubbed 'MAYtallica,'" he continued. "I was hoping to perform the material at the annual Oklahoma City Festival of the Arts, held in April, but I came here. Still, I had to perform the material somehow, and the 386th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron folks here were very kind and accommodating in setting up some shows so I could debut my new material."
As the staff sergeant's deployment nears its end, he plans to continue to work hard and focus on perfecting some of his more meticulous musical compositions, such as "One."
"I'm still finding difficulty in performing 'One' with total fluency," he said. "I first started arranging the song for solo guitar about seven months ago, and I'm still struggling with the composition. Before 'One,' I found 'In the Mood' to be the most difficult piece. That song took about six months to perform with ease. This is a welcome challenge, though."
As the applause dies down and Poire leaves the stage after another successful performance, he breathes a sigh of relief. Soon he will be home again, playing with his twin brother and continuing to share the joys of fingerstyle guitar with the world.