WIESBADEN, Germany - Red, white and blue as far as the eye could see.

That's how this year's Independence Day Celebration and German-American Friendship Festival kicked off June 28 as some 600 community runners participated in the five-kilometer Color Run on Wiesbaden's Clay Kaserne. As dogs, strollers, ballerinas and people of all ages sprinted away from the Wiesbaden Fitness Center to make their way around the airfield, they were pelted with colorful powder creating a flowing ribbon of running feet and red, white and blue smiles.

Participants were treated to free smoothies and T-shirts, courtesy of USAG Wiesbaden's Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation following the run.

A few hours later it was time for the official start of the German-American Friendship Festival in Hainerberg Housing. As the U.S. Army Europe Band and Chorus warmed up the crowd, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Longo, deputy commander of U.S. Army Europe; Col. David Carstens, USAG Wiesbaden commander; and Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Rocco were joined by Wiesbaden Burgermeister Arno Gossmann and Festmeister Alexander Schramm in tapping the traditional keg of beer to start the festivities.

"Herzlich Wilkommen and welcome to the German-American Friendship Fest," said Carstens, before welcoming USAREUR's deputy commander to the podium.

Both Longo and Gossmann made reference to the World Cup while acknowledging the close ties between Germans and Americans in Wiesbaden.

"Thank you to the German team for not beating our U.S. team too badly so that we could advance at the World Cup," said Longo.

"I was first assigned to Wiesbaden in 1981. I met my wife in Wiesbaden, married my wife downtown at the Landesamt and my two children were born here," Longo said, thanking Wiesbaden's citizens for "sharing their city with us."

Wiesbaden's mayor also alluded to World Cup action, wishing the American team "best of luck in their game against Belgium. When we celebrate the last day of the fest on July 4, maybe we can both celebrate having made it into the final game."

Gossmann thanked the garrison commander for taking the initiative to re-introduce the German-American festival after not being a part of the calendar of events in the city since the late '90s.

"We cannot put a pricetag on what our German friends provide," said Carstens later during an interview with the Wiesbaden Kurier, pointing out the strong support provided by German Polizei, firefighters and others who help Americans feel safe, secure and always welcome in their home away from home.

"This is our first big German-American festival in Wiesbaden since 1998," said Joe Harris, festival and special events coordinator for the garrison. We had about 14,000 visitors on Saturday and we've gotten a lot of positive feedback from German and American visitors so far, saying they were surprised at how many attractions were available at the fest."

Harris added that while some people were disappointed that not enough U.S. private organizations were represented, he explained that as the first time in many years of a joint celebration, "we've got to start small, and hope to get bigger and better each year. We want to have different attractions every year."

Harris said he was most pleased to see the many smiles on young faces as youths enjoyed rides and other activities. "They're (German and American children) not just having fun together. There's no nationality to these screams of excitement. Little kids rock."

Harris, too, thanked the many private organizations, garrison directorates, units, members of joint patrols and others for supporting the fest. "So many people have made this happen. It really is a community effort." He also lauded the "good mixture of German and American performers" featured onstage in the large fest tent.

Upcoming highlights

Visitors can look forward to a range of special events in the final two days of the festival.

On July 3 the main tent will feature variety music with DJ Stan from 4-8 p.m. and live music by the rock and variety band Room 4 Two from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Besides the fireworks which will wrap up the celebration at around 11 p.m. on Independence Day, visitors can enjoy variety music with DJ Stan from 2-3:30 p.m., the PFG Big Band from 3:30-4:30 p.m. July 4, a performance by the Maennergesangverein Fidelio 1891 choir from 4:30-5:30 p.m., the rock combo Splash and Dash from 6-8:30 p.m., the USAREUR Soldier's Chorus from 8:30-10:30 p.m. and hip hop, rap and funk with DJ All Skool from 10:30 p.m. to midnight.

Members of the Elvis Presley Verein e.V. Bad Nauheim/Friedberg will be on hand with a special exhibit about Presley in the Army Community Service Cafeteria, an Information/Tourism Fair will be available outside the Wiesbaden Entertainment Center and special Polizei, Bundeswehr and Fire Department displays will also be on hand on July 4.