Despite triple-digit heat, thousands celebrate Fourth of July at Fort Hood
July 5, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas, July 6, 2011 -- “Our plan is to wear them out early, get them home to take a nap and bring them back later to watch the fireworks,” Warrant Officer Jonathan Brock said after his two daughters, Breeanna, 7, and Areeanna, 5, struck out in their attempt to land a fish at the Kid’s Fishing Pond on the midway at Fort Hood’s Freedom Fest July 4.
The Brock family, including mom, Victoria, arrived at Fort Hood less than three weeks ago from Fort Gordon, Ga. They, along with hundreds of others, filed into the Freedom Fest grounds at Sadowski Field when it opened to the public at 1 p.m. While the lines for free rides were shorter, the temperature stayed above 100 all afternoon.
“We’ll stay for awhile, go home, cool off, take a shower and come back later,” said Pfc. Don Walls, a fueler with Company F, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment and a father of four who brought his brood early to beat the long lines expected later in the day.
“It is hot, though,” he admitted.
Helping festival-goers deal with the heat was a group of Fort Hood medics and health care professionals roaming the midway, as well as at two first aid stations.
“We’ve got upwards of 40 medical professionals working the festival throughout the day,” said Sgt. Justin Winch, a combat medic with the 21st Combat Support Hospital working at one of the first aid stations.
“Each station has a doctor, a nurse and a licensed practical nurse. We’re here to provide basic medical care, but if there is a real emergency, we’ll get them straight to Darnall (Carl R. Darnall Army Medial Center),” he said, noting an ambulance parked nearby.
Spc. Larry McElveen, a medic with the 21st CSH, treated a woman with a minor scrape on her left arm, but said he and his team were also on the lookout for heat casualties as they roamed the festival grounds.
“I’ve already treated a few,” he said. “The best thing people can do is drink plenty of fluids, use sunscreen and get in the shade as often as possible.”
Emergency medical staff were only a small portion of hundreds Soldiers and civilians working behind the scenes to make Independence Day and Freedom Fest 2011 a success.
“Just counting Soldiers and volunteers, you’ve got more than 850 folks on hand to make this happen,” Maj. John Lybarger, operations officer for the 89th Military Police Brigade, said. “We’ve been coordinating the effort since February.”
The “Griffens” of the 89th MP Brigade took the lead as the command and control element for this year’s celebration. More than 170 Griffens worked the event, from the operations center to traffic control, to access control points, and to the additional patrols set in place for the holiday’s relaxed entry onto the installation for its Central Texas neighbors.
Soldiers from the brigade also served as color bearers for the state flags during Freedom Fest’s ceremony Monday evening. Yet, it’s a labor of love according to their commander.
“(Freedom Fest) is a great way to showcase the Army,” said Col. Patrick W. Williams, 89th MP Bde. commander. “It’s a celebration, but more importantly, it showcases who we are: the greatest Army in the world.”
But the Freedom Fest celebration is also about families, Williams said.
“It’s about taking care of our own,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re putting on a great event for those who serve, those who support those who serve and those who have served before us.”
At 7 p.m., the “Salute to the Nation” ceremony was held at the flagpole outside of III Corps Headquarters. Soldiers from the 89th MP Bde formed a ring with the flags of all 50 states, as well as the national, Army and III Corps colors.
Each state was introduced, in the order they entered the union, followed by a cannon blast by a salute battery from 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment. The state of Texas drew the loudest cheers.
Miss Texas 2010, Ashley Melnick, sang the National Anthem, finishing to rousing applause. She was followed by Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr., III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general, who thanked the surrounding communities for their support and reminded the crowd that while the greater Fort Hood community can celebrate the country’s 235th birthday safely, many others remain in harm’s way.
”As we celebrate this evening, let us keep in mind the sacrifices of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardmen and civilians currently deployed, and their families,” Campbell said. “We salute you all.
Near the end of his address, Campbell told everyone what they wanted to hear.
“Yes, we’re going to fire fireworks at Fort Hood tonight,” he said. Many Central Texas communities had to forego fireworks displays due to the hot, dry weather and continuing drought conditions in the area.
Following the ceremony, thousands more crowded onto Sadowski Field as the sun went down and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies took center stage. Hundreds more lined Highway 190 to catch Central Texas’ largest fireworks display. With no turnstiles to count attendance, it’s impossible to know the exact number of people who turned out for Fort Hood’s Independence Day celebration, though officials estimated nearly 100,000 were expected to attend throughout the day.
For Lybarger, seeing Soldiers, who he knows have deployed and returned home again to loved ones, enjoy the day with their families made his contribution to the day’s celebration that much more special.
“You see the faces of the kids with their sno-cones or hot dogs,” he said. “You look in their eyes. You helped make a memory for these families, and like the commercial says, ‘It’s priceless.’”