BATURAJA, Indonesia — U.S. soldiers training in Sumatra this month are getting the Justin Bieber treatment with locals harassing them for photos outside of training areas.
Hundreds of students showed up for a concert by the Tropic Lightning Band of the 25th Infantry Division at the University of Baturaja on Thursday.
The group is in Indonesia with 2,000 other U.S. troops participating in this month’s Super Garuda Shield exercise alongside 2,000 Indonesian military personnel.
A group of student drummers kicked off the concert with impressive marches and twirling of batons before seven American soldiers took the stage and played hits by Taylor Swift, Macklemore and Michael Jackson. They also performed an Indonesian song called “Sikok Bagi Duo”.
Before and after the performance, students, teachers and parents swarmed Tropic Lightning members and Civil Affairs Troopers demanding to take pictures with them.
Dewi Anggraeni, 21, an agribusiness student and college bandleader, who marched in a bright orange uniform, said she and her classmates were delighted to see the soldiers.
“We are very happy because the US Army is the first foreign marching band to come to the university,” she said.
The students spent a week rehearsing for the show, she said.
American singers such as Ariana Grande and Bruno Mars are popular with young people in Baturaja, but Anggraeni said she prefers traditional Indonesian music.
One of the soldiers who watched the show was Staff Sgt. Kevin Wilson, 36, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who works for the Army’s Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command.
“They don’t ask a lot of questions, but they want to take a lot of pictures,” he said between poses with the students. “It’s really heartwarming to see that enthusiasm.”
The crowd response means playing Baturaja feels like being in a hit band in the United States, said trombonist Sgt. David Weinroth, 29, of Boca Raton, Florida.
Huge crowds turned up for Tropic Lightning shows during the exercise, he said, adding that several thousand people attended a show at a local park earlier in the week.
What would he say to other troops who might be training in Indonesia?
“Everyone is so excited to have us here,” he said. “You are guaranteed to have a wonderful and welcoming time.”
American troops attracted attention even when doing routine things. A group of soldiers driving a high mobility artillery rocket system on Tuesday from Palembang to Baturaja were hit by other motorists looking for photos as they stopped to eat at a rest area.
Over 87% of Indonesia’s 275 million people are Muslim, making it home to the largest Muslim population in the world.
He has waged a decades-long war against Islamic extremists, including the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group, whose members carried out the October 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians and 23 Britons.
Indonesia’s National Assembly toughened its anti-terrorism law in 2018 after a rise in local militancy and an Islamic State bombing that killed 30 people, according to Reuters.
The US military has extensive experience working in the Islamic world in recent years.
“We understand their culture within reason and respect their culture,” said 7th Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Stephen Smith, who leads US forces participating in the Super Garuda Shield.
The popularity of US soldiers with locals shows the “power of good” they bring with them, he said during a training break in Baturaja on Wednesday.
“Our soldiers are our benchmarks,” Smith said.