Airman finds joy in singing

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Senior Airman Adriana Van Wyk, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection technician, poses for a portrait Jan. 13 at Luke Air Force Base. Van Wyk is a national anthem singer for Luke Air Force Base and has sung at numerous events including an Arizona Cardinals game.

“At first I thought, ‘It’s just singing,’” said Senior Airman Adriana Van Wyk, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection technician and Luke Air Force Base national anthem singer.
As she walked onto the field of the University of Phoenix stadium Nov. 9, 2014, during the pregame segment of the National Football League matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams, she knew immediately it wasn’t just going to be singing anymore.
Thousands of fans, some of whom were in front row seats no more than 20 feet behind her, were screaming as she stepped toward a platform in the middle of an end zone to begin the national anthem. Singing was nothing new to her, but this was an audience unlike any she had ever performed before.
“That was probably one of the most high anxiety moments of my life,” Van Wyk said.
Included among the crowd were several high-profile officers and military commanders, like Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th Fighter Wing commander.
“The commander coined me just before I sang, and he whispered to me, ‘Don’t forget the words.’ I thought, ‘General, you’re not helping!’” Van Wyk said with a laugh.
For her, singing is normally a relatively natural instinct, with little on-the-fly strategy involved.
“I don’t think when I sing,” Van Wyk said.
She describes how the act typically clears her head, how she just funnels into the song and the flow of the words, and her focus narrows solely into the delivery of her voice.
As she began the national anthem at the Cardinals game, the distracting environment of the stadium quickly broke her out of the trance-like state she normally inhabits. Giant screens flashing graphic illustrations, her name, out-of-sync lyrics, feedback from the sound system, and the booming echo of her own voice traveling on a delayed course in circles around the stadium was confusing.
Barely able to hear herself in real-time, she had to concentrate on her own tempo and ignore the overwhelming collection of noises circulating around her. Fortunately, a lifetime filled with choir and church hymns had prepared her for this moment. Although this was her biggest football game, it was not her first. She completed the song to thunderous cheers and applause.
The 23-year-old Van Wyk doesn’t remember exactly when she began singing, but remembers going to nursing homes around her hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to sing hymns with her grandmother when she was 5 or 6 years old.
The progression of her talent naturally brought her into the fold of her church’s choir and the various holiday shows of her elementary school. Following that, she became part of the traveling choir of her middle school, and sang competitively in high school. During her studies at Western Iowa Tech Community College, she was a member of the concert and jazz choirs.
When she joined the Air Force, she did not expect her singing to continue as anything more than a hobby.
“She sings around the shop all the time,” said Master Sgt. Ann Collantes, 56th EMS NDI NCO in charge. “She’s very energetic. I’ll be sitting in my office and hear her singing from outside in the hall.”
The prior section chief faced the same situation upon Van Wyk’s arrival to Luke as a first term Airman on New Year’s Day 2014, and having discovered Van Wyk’s love of vocal projection, suggested that she try out for a national anthem singer position with the Luke protocol office.
“I went to protocol and they said, ‘Ok, go,’ and I started singing, and then they were like, ‘Ok, you’re done,’” Van Wyk said, laughing.
She not only made it onto their list as an official singer, she was placed in the top tier, which meant that she could sing at any official event on or off base. This, of course, included major professional sporting events. It also included memorial services.
“Those were probably the hardest events I’ve ever had to sing at,” Van Wyk said.
She doesn’t normally allow emotions to affect the way she sings, but with the two memorial services she sung in honor of fallen Airmen in 2015, she says, it was impossible not to.
“At the start of the service, they escort the family in, the wife and kids, and sometimes they just have no idea how everything is going to go,” Van Wyk said. “At some point, everyone is crying, and I sing, and at the end they play Taps – that’s the hardest part.”
After a number of singing engagements, Van Wyk’s talent began to be noticed in different places, and the demand for her voice quickly rose.
“After I was on the list, people just started hitting me up,” Van Wyk said. “People were asking me: Can you sing for this? Can you sing for that? There was a time where I would sing twice a week, in addition to my normal work duties.”
Van Wyk is a busy person outside of work, with hobbies that include snowboarding, running, weight lifting, hiking, camping, a general affinity for mountains and the outdoors, television shows, books, good food, a continued education and a boyfriend. She loves listening to the music of other artists, like Led Zeppelin, her favorite rock band, or various genres of Electronic Dance Music when she wants to have pure, simple fun. Her favorite singer is Patsy Cline, and many of her favorite artists like Etta James, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Nicks, and even Adele, are mostly from another era.
She is a member in a lot of things, and a leader in others. She is the president of the Frank Luke Chapter of the Air Force Association, which she accomplished during her first year at Luke as an airman first class.
Her aspirations and drive to achieve her goals are high, and she hopes for the opportunity to commission someday. At the same time, she details the type of leadership she imagines expressing when, as she confidently predicts, she becomes a senior NCO somewhere down the line.
“She’s absolutely an asset,” Collantes said. “When I met her, she was an A1C and already a trainer in our shop. She works at a staff sergeant level. She’s one of our best trainers. She’s very knowledgeable, detailed and great at what she does. She’s amazing.”
Van Wyk is highly appreciative of all of the opportunities the Air Force has presented her, giving her not only a career, but the ability to pursue her love of singing with it.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but for me there have been a lot of opportunities and the Air Force has treated me well,” Van Wyk said.