From Russian tanks to Air Force trombones

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Hensley
  • Fuji Flyer contributor
Staff Sgt. Vladimir Tchekan's life reads like a real-life movie script. After all, he's dodged tanks, was a musician in a popular rock band and even helped orphans in Thailand. Sergeant Tchekan isn't a movie star, but he is living the American dream - Air Force style. 

Born and raised in Moscow, Sergeant Tchekan spent his youth living under the thumb of the Russian Communist regime. The son of a railroad engineer and doctor, Sergeant Tchekan's dream was to study music. 

However, when his turn came to serve in the Russian military, he found himself playing with tanks instead of playing music. 

"Because I was a musician, I hoped I would get lucky and play in the field band," said Sergeant Tchekan, U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia trombone player. "Instead, I was assigned to a tank division as a foot soldier to run behind the tanks." 

After two years, Sergeant Tchekan's obligation to the Russian military was up, and it couldn't have come at a sweeter time. 

"My time was up just as President Ronald Regan and Mikhail Gorbachev began talks," said the sergeant. "For me, that meant freedom." 

His discharge from the military meant that he could get back to his first love - music.
He reunited with his local Russian band mates and before long, they had a following. They even opened at the 1989 Moscow Music Peace Festival for bands like Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne. 

But once the band's fame waned, Sergeant Tchekan knew he had to move on.
Before serving in the Russian military, Sergeant Tchekan studied music in college. He knew he wanted to finish school but at the time, he didn't have many options in Russia. He set his sights on America and the rest is history. 

"I came to America on a student visa. I got scholarships and worked hard to learn English," said the trombone player. "Before long, I had a degree, but still needed a job."
After several years of traveling and performing, he longed for more stability. 

"I made friends with some people who were in the United States military and they encouraged me to join," said Sergeant Tchekan. "It sounded so different from my time in the Russian military. More freedom, more benefits and a system based on values." 

Sergeant Tchekan had only one question before joining the Air Force in 1999, "Am I going to run behind a tank?" 

Not only is he not running behind a tank, Sergeant Tchekan is doing what he set out to do all those years ago. 

He is an accomplished Air Force musician and performing all over the world. And those performances have allowed him to see places in a different light. 

"I have been to countries that have suffered just like Russia," he said. "To see them as an American is very different." 

Several years into his enlistment, his life as an American citizen came full circle when he was called to perform at the funeral of someone who unknowingly changed his life. 

"I was able to leave Russia because of President Ronald Reagan. Then I was called to perform at his funeral," he said. 

For Sergeant Tchekan, the experience was life-changing. 

He can recount each detail of the funeral service and said he is grateful for the opportunity to give back. 

"It was sad but amazing moment. I will never forget it."