Biggest Armed Forces Day celebration in country steps off at Fort Sill
May 22, 2009
With rain sprinkling down around them, Doris Wynn took her three children and their friends to watch and support the Armed Forces Day parade May 16 in Lawton.
"The weather isn't the best and the rain is making us cold, but if they are making almost 3,000 Soldiers march in this parade, the least we can do is show up to support them," said Wynn. "But the Soldiers look happy to be here and they are in fine form today."
"We almost didn't come out today because of the weather," said Lisa Burley. "But my son is marching. My husband and I had to come out to show our love and support for what he does every day. I am glad we came out. There aren't many people out in the rain watching the parade. I don't blame them, but it is sad. The men and women who came out here today to march or ride should be seen by someone. I am just glad I am doing my part. The Soldiers look amazing."
The parade started off with police cars from Fort Sill, Lawton and surrounding towns. Men, women and children carrying umbrellas walked, rode on floats pulled by trucks while showing their support for Armed Forces Day. Military vehicles made their appearances. The Fort Sill family of the year and the NCO of the year waved and threw candy to on-lookers. Maj. Gen. Peter M. Vangjel, U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, served as parade grand marshal.
"The parade was a lot shorter than we expected," said Wynn. "I notice <t-4>that none of the schools showed up. There was no marching band. But that's OK. We came here for the Soldiers."
The man who wrote the song "God Bless the U.S.A.," a sort of second national anthem celebrated Armed Forces Day with the Lawton-Fort Sill community May 16.
Singer, Lee Greenwood marched at the front of the parade with Vangjel, Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Smith, field artillery command sergeant major, and more than 2,800 Soldiers.
The celebration concluded with a concert featuring Greenwood and guests Jon Wolfe and Bryan White. The concert opened with local performer Penni Lawrence, who sang the national anthem.
According to Brenda Spencer-Ragland, entertainment chairperson for the Armed Forces Day events, the celebration was a team effort. "Jane Engemann, (director, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security) coordinated all the Fort Sill aspects of the parade and shuttle service from Fort Sill. Wayne Andrews, Plans, Analyses, Information Office, was the volunteer coordinator and coordinated hundreds of volunteers for all the Armed Forces Day events."
Spencer-Ragland said numerous Soldiers volunteered to work Saturday. "All in all, it was an incredibly awesome event," she said. "We appreciate the community for taking the initiative to offer a quality event for our Soldiers, families and community."
Spencer-Ragland said more than 7,500 Soldiers, family members, retirees and community members attended the concert.
According to Staff Sgt. Mike Chavers, noncommissioned officer in charge, protocol, drove Greenwood to the parade, for a tour of old Fort Sill and to the concert.
"Brenda asked me to drive Lee Greenwood around and since I was the former commanding general's driver I was happy to do it," he said. "I made sure Lee was there to march at the front of the parade with the commanding general and post sergeant major."
Chavers said Greenwood was interested in touring Fort Sill. "Lee did the tour with the Vangjels and Towana Spivey, (Fort Sill museum curator). Lee toured Sherman House and Joanne Vangjel told him all about the history of Sherman House. He later toured the Calvary Barracks and the Old Post Quadrangle."
After the parade, Greenwood joined the Soldiers who had marched in the parade and talked to many of them individually to find out where they were from and to thank them for all they do for our country and the freedom we all enjoy, said Chavers.
"I met Jon Wolfe and I thought he had a great voice," said Chavers. "Bryan White didn't get to the concert until late because he flew in from Vegas but he made it on time. He's from Lawton and spent a lot of his time here as a youth. His mom performed on stage with him and his grandmother sat in the front row for the concert."
Chavers said he believed Greenwood was very down to earth. "I could tell he really enjoys spending time with Soldiers and he genuinely cares about them. I thought he was great. It's not very often that you find an entertainer that wants to go out and spend his time with Soldiers. It's very unique."
Chavers also attended the Armed Forces Day Luncheon on Friday and said he was very impressed with retired Gen. Tommy Franks, the guest speaker. "I think Tommy Franks is a great American," he said. "He's been a Soldier for 42 years and he's still all about being a Soldier and taking care of Soldiers. He still takes the time out for Soldiers and that says a lot about him as a leader."