Local leaders officially kicked off Armed Forces Celebration Week festivities with a proclamation signing ceremony June 23 on the Ordnance Munitions and Electronics Maintenance School parade field.

Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer, Madison Mayor Sandy Kirkindall and Madison County Commissioner Mike Gillespie joined military and civilian leaders from Team Redstone to sign the proclamation dedicating a weeklong series of events to honor Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the local community.

Representatives from the offices of Reps. Bud Cramer and Robert Aderholt and Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby also attended.

"The theme for this year's event is 'America Supports Our Men and Women,'" said retired Brig. Gen. Larry Capps, this year's chairman of Armed Forces Celebration Week, who served as master of ceremonies. He gave a recap of the various activities that local businesses had in store for servicemembers.

"We are proud to pay tribute to military members in our community," Capps said. "We have exceeded our expectations for the success of this event. The Army has recognized Redstone Arsenal's celebration of Armed Forces Week as the best in the nation."

Among the speakers for the occasion was Maj. Gen. Jim Myles, commander of Redstone Arsenal and the Aviation and Missile Command. With outstretched hands, Myles addressed the Soldiers.

"You are the reason we are here today, and you deserve our honor. We couldn't do it without you. We thank each of you for protecting us!" he said.

Myles asked the military and civilian leaders present to take five minutes to shake the hand of each Soldier on the parade field.

Spencer, Kirkindall and Gillespie joined Team Redstone's top civilian and military leaders as they moved through the crowd shaking the hands of the Soldiers on the field.

Spencer said interacting with the troops during the ceremony was very special to her.

"Being able to reach out and touch 'face to face' members of our military community is a great honor for me," she said. "As I walked through the formation shaking hands with the Soldiers, one of them asked how I was doing, and I turned and gave him a hug. I wanted him to know that I appreciate what he is doing for me as he serves our nation. I'd hug each and every one of them (the Soldiers) here today if I could."

Both Kirkindall and Gillespie mentioned during their speeches a desire to give servicemembers a better home away from home while they are in the area.

"We (leaders) who are present today represent more than 300,000 persons in this community," Kirkindall said. "You are a part of this number. You are not transitional; you are a part of us. We are a better community because of you. We welcome you to our community, and want to get to know you better. This is just the beginning."

The troops said they were looking forward to getting to know Huntsville and its citizens better during the activities last week.

"Having this celebration lets us know that we, too, are important in the community," Spc. Wendy Tucker of the Garrison said. "It really shows that our leaders are supporting all of us (Soldiers) whether in Garrison or overseas in the war zone."

"The activities scheduled for this year's Armed Forces Week are focused on many facets of the military community," Spencer said. "We want to reach out to our servicemembers on many different levels. This is just the beginning."