Fort Bliss high fliers, hard rockers turn out for annual festival
June 11, 2008
FORT BLISS, Texas - The hot air was stirred as drumbeats pulsed out and guitars riffs ripped through the Chihuahua desert. Music lovers, bands and balloonists celebrated Memorial Day weekend during the KLAQ-sponsored Balloonfest at Wet N' Wild Waterworld in Anthony, Texas.
"It's about fusing passion and a message," said Korey Cooper, a member of the band Skillet, which performed at the festival. "I really appreciate what they, the Soldiers, are doing. I have to give them props for the courage to fight for our country."
The three-day festival draws many Soldiers and military families from the Fort Bliss community. Crowds gather to watch the mass of hot-air balloons, serve on flight crews and spend the day relaxing at the water park while listening to a variety of live bands.
Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Cook with 1st Armor Division said these types of events are one of the perks of living in the El Paso community. The Cooks spent the first few hours of daybreak watching the show.
"We live on a mountain so my wife and I go outside to have coffee and watch the balloons in the valley," he said.
But when a balloon chase crew came close to their home, they decided to join in on the fun.
"We saw an explosion of color in our backyard," added Monica Cook. "I've always wanted to chase a balloon. Luckily, I have a husband who's willing to explore."
After a day of crewing and chasing the balloon "Cool Beans" through mesquite and tumbleweeds, the Cooks flew in their first hot-air balloon ride.
"This is a dream come true for me," she added.
Jeanne Gartner and Barney Watson, owners and co-pilots of Cool Beans, have spent years flying in Balloonfest and the local communities. Watson also works at the White Sands Missile Range and every September, he jumps at the opportunity to peruse the military-controlled skies there.
"The white sand dunes are a favorite, and a fabulous place to fly," Gartner said.
Other Team Bliss community members like Tony Hanner, who works as a material deployment specialist at Biggs Airfield, uses connections made at Balloonfest to show support for Soldiers. Hanner has crewed hot-air balloons for five years and last year he surprised several Fort Bliss Soldiers with free balloon rides when he "adopted" them for Thanksgiving.
"They showed up in their Class A's to - surprise - spend the day with propane burners," he said.
During the sequential afternoons, several ACU-pattered boonie hats could be seen mixed throughout the mosh and barbecue pits. National bands like P.O.D., Atreyu, Egypt Central and Skillet played in the sultry heat.
"I respect anyone in any branch of service and their personal sacrifice," said John Falls, lead singer from Egypt Central. "It's the greatest honor for someone to dedicate themselves to their country while protecting people they don't know."
The bands were eager to show their support for the armed forces.
"I think it's really amazing what they're doing every day," said Jen Ledger, Skillet's drummer. "Everyone has lots of respect for them. They're really brave."
Guitarist Ben Kasica added, "We get a few messages on MySpace from deployed troops. It's encouraging to hear that our music has affected them."
In fact, after playing full sets some lead singers agreed that they would like to include additional concerts at military bases and communities in upcoming tours.
"It would be cool to go overseas someday to bring music and a taste of home to the troops," said Skillet's John Cooper.
"We are bouncing ideas around; hopefully, it will be inspirational to the troops," added Falls. "Our military fan base has grown a lot, since our friends in the military have carried our CDs with them to Iraq."