Guard Airman shares love of music though new afterschool class

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Phoenix Lietch
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Fourth and fifth graders wait in anticipation as they prepare to play their stringed instruments. They have been preparing for this moment by rehearsing after school for the past several months, and this is their first concert. They had never touched a stringed instrument before this year, but with the help from their director, they are now ready for the stage.

            Master Sgt. Cherokee Walkup Pliemling, 131st Force Support Squadron formal schools non-commissioned officer in charge, has been playing double duty as a member of the Missouri Air National Guard and running an afterschool program for the fourth and fifth graders of Whiteman Youth Center. She introduced a free, afterschool instructional strings program in the fall of 2023.

She recently used her military educational benefits to achieve a Master of Arts degree in music education. Deciding that now was a good time, Pliemling set forth to expand the music capabilities of the Whiteman Youth Center.

“I finished my master’s program and graduated in May 2023 and that was kind of my launching point for saying, ‘okay, I finished my education. What am I going to do with it now?’” she said.

She explained that she wants to use her education to bloom where she is planted. She was not only able to find something that she wanted to do, but was also able to help the base community by providing a new service. This wasn't always the case though, before her military career she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education. Her aim was to pursue that career path when she graduated, but due to the war on terror her priorities shifted to service of her country. She said she felt a stronger calling to follow the military path.

“I’ve been in the military for many years, so I didn’t get to pursue music education initially,” she said, “Some of that recency and confidence comes right out of your undergrad and I've had a long time for that to dissipate. Now I'm getting back into the comfort zone of interacting and communicating with young people.”

Pliemling said that she has been able to take some of the skills the military has taught her in terms of mentoring, coaching, and feedback. This has allowed her to connect with her students and encourage a positive environment for learning and growth. She explained that learning a new instrument at a young age can be tricky because there are a lot of various skills and techniques happening all at one time.

“Sometimes that can be a challenge, but when you see them get the concept you can see their eyes light up and turn to their partner and they’re like ‘Oh I got it!’” said Pliemling.

In her life, she uses music as an emotional and creative outlet to help her with stressors of the day. That outlet is what motivated her to teach the students music, so they can use it to flow emotions through.

“Music has always been an outlet for me,” She said, “When life gets tough, music has been there for me. If it feels so great for to me, then I want to share that with other people and let them experience it as well.”

Her goal is to continue to build, grow, and expand the instructional strings program, so that there are education opportunities available to the children of the surrounding area. She also hopes to expand the program to other grades from middle school to high school.

Mark and Shayna Covell, parents of one of the students, said that they thought the holiday concert was wonderful. They could really tell that Pliemling deeply cares for the kids in her program.

“We feel incredibly lucky to have Cherokee and the instructional strings program here at Whiteman,” the Covells said.  When our son first said he wanted to learn the violin, we kind of nodded and said ‘we’ll see’, unsure of how we would be able to fit that into our busy schedule or where we would even go.” They said, “Ezra loves going to violin lessons and it has been a joy to see his musical talents and interests being nurtured.”

At the holiday concert, the crowd lights up with glee as they students play their music. Their families’ faces don smiles and adoring eyes as they see all the hard work their kids have done. The concert comes to an end and the families meet up with their children with excitement for what they have accomplished. The fourth and fifth graders have started their musical journey and are the pioneers of the new strings program happily awaiting their next concert.