By Staff Sgt. Elvis UmanzorMay 6, 2014
SWAINSBORO, Ga. - Crowds waved and cheered as 92 Dog Face soldiers from 3rd Infantry Division marched down Main Street during the 69th Annual Pine Tree Festival parade in Swainsboro, Saturday, May 3.
Unofficially the pine tree capital of the world, Swainsboro is a small patriotic town in Emanuel County that's celebrated the wood industry, their most dominant natural resource, since 1949. This year's 10-day festival, where more than 10,000 spectators were anticipated, concluded with the annual parade, which 3rd ID, out of Fort Stewart, has supported each of the past five years.
The color guard, led by Lt. Col. Brandon Klink, commander of the 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, headed the parade down a one-mile route lined with community residents and other visitors from around the state. The Marne Division's marching band followed as their melody kept the formation of Soldiers from 703rd BSB in step.
Klink, from St. Louis, Mo., said he thought his soldiers had a good experience and highlighted the great opportunity for the soldiers and community to connect.
"They are really representing the Vanguard Brigade, 3rd ID, and representing our Army, and the nation at large appreciates what we do," Klink added. "We really appreciate the support of the local community, it's a beautiful town ... and everyone has been super receptive."
Children of all ages, adults, and veterans on the sides of the street waved and smiled as the soldiers, an all volunteer force, proudly marched by. During the parade small children asked their parents if the men and women in uniform were real soldiers, a memorable moment for many of the soldiers.
"It was a great turnout," said Spc. Matthew Singleton, a heavy wheeled vehicle operator with Company A, 703rd BSB. "It's a Saturday, but it's a beautiful Saturday."
"I heard a lot of thank yous and, 'we're so proud of you, thank you for your service,' ... it makes me feel proud," said Singleton, a Charleston, S.C., native.
He said the experience of marching in the parade helped put everything he does on a daily basis into perspective.
"It gives you a greater sense of purpose [for serving] other than just going to work."
"I really enjoyed myself," Singleton added.
Terry Crowell, a member of the Alee Shrine Iron Knights, said the soldiers looked good, and he was proud of what the soldiers do.
"It means the military is identifying with the communities, being part of the community, and not just being a military authority like in other countries," added Crowell, who traveled from Savannah for the festival.
After the parade, all the Soldiers were hosted by members of the Alee Shriners Club for lunch. Many of the community leaders, to include the city mayor and county sheriff, stopped by and gave their personal thanks to the soldiers for their service and for marching in the parade.
"We appreciate you coming and [for] what you do to serve our country and keep us free," said Mack Griffin, who's been the parade marshal for the last five years.
"We enjoy having the military here," he added. "We invite you back, each and every year."
The Shriners, who played a big part in the festival, is a fraternity-like group of freemasons who are also widely known for their 22 health facilities dedicated to providing pediatric medical care.