By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 11, 2014
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 11, 2014) -- Thousands flocked to Fort Rucker's festival fields from all across the South to celebrate the nation's Independence Day during this year's Wiregrass Freedom Fest July 3.
In a partnership with Dothan, Enterprise, Daleville and Ozark, the Wiregrass Freedom Fest kicked off at 4 p.m. with food, fun and live music for people to enjoy before people turned their eyes to the skies for the most spectacular fireworks show for miles around.
Attendees this year enjoyed blue skies and fair weather, which was a stark contrast from last year's festival that had to, for the most part, be canceled.
That wasn't the case this year, said Kristi Fink, Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation special events coordinator.
"The turnout for this year's Freedom Fest was huge," she said. "It was awesome seeing all these Families come out and enjoy the festivities.
"It makes it so worthwhile to see all the hard work that goes into planning this event come together to create this incredible event," she continued. "It's a nice time for the local community to come on post and celebrate our freedom with the Soldiers and their Families, and it shows the Soldiers that they are appreciated for all they do to keep us safe."
Brig. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, was on hand to welcome people to the festivities and remind them that the freedoms that people enjoy every day come at a cost, and to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
"Tonight we're going to really pay tribute to those that have fallen, as well as their Families that are here with us tonight," said Lundy during Freedom Fest. "As we think about the freedoms that we enjoy, our nation is blessed because of the Soldiers that have sacrificed so much and the Families that have sacrificed so much."
It's because of that freedom that so many people were able to enjoy all that Freedom Fest had to offer, including dozens of food vendors, bounce houses, the Warrant Officer Career College Confidence Course for children to test their mettle, static displays and even a zip line.
Jason Spark, civilian, came out with his mother and father, Jeanna and David, and said his favorite part of the festival was the WOCC Confidence Course, at least until the fireworks.
"I really liked the course they had set up because you don't get to do too many things like this," he said. "It was nice that they had the Soldiers there to help out with each part of the course so it wasn't too dangerous or anything. It was just a lot of fun."
The course featured a rope swing, wall climb, monkey bars and more, and warrant officer candidates were on hand to make sure that each child made it through the course safely.
Another popular attraction during the festival was the zip line, which people of all ages were able to enjoy, and Brittany Davis, Army Family member, said it was something she won't soon forget.
"I was a little scared when I first got up there because it was really high, but once I got strapped in I just told myself that I need to do it and that it was going to be a lot of fun, and it was," she said. "It wasn't as scary as I though it would be and it was a lot of fun zooming down. After that I just wanted to go again."
Although all of the attractions and vendors were set up to entertain patrons from all around, they were only teasers to the main events.
Before attendees were treated to colorful explosions in the skies, the 98th Army "Silver Wings" Band took to the stage to offer the crowd a musical treat with songs of all genres, ranging from rock and roll to pop to country.
Amy Smith, military spouse, said she was really surprised by the talent of the Army Band.
"I had no idea that the Army Band was so versatile," she said. "I've been to ceremonies and things like that before and I've seen them there playing the national anthem or the Army song, but to hear them like this showed me a whole different side to them -- it was fantastic!"
After the band took the crowd on a musical journey, all attention was on the Fort Rucker skies as fireworks lit up the night with a musical accompaniment in honor of the nation's Independence Day.
Lindsay Davis, civilian, brought her Family from Dothan to enjoy the festivities and said there was no other way she would rather have spent the day celebrating.
"How else would you celebrate this day other than coming to a military installation to show your support for the troops that protect you right here at home?" she asked. "A lot of people I know went to the beach or somewhere far off to celebrate this weekend, but I knew the best place to celebrate would be right here at Fort Rucker where we've got troops of our own that we can show our appreciation to in person."