By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 7, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 7, 2016) -- As millions across the U.S. prepared to celebrate the nation's 240th birthday, Fort Rucker's celebration of freedom was fully under way with food, fun, festivities and fireworks.
The installation celebrated its annual Freedom Fest as thousands flocked to the festival fields July 1 to enjoy the festivities with music, games and one of the largest fireworks displays in the area.
Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, welcomed the crowds before the 98th Army "Silver Wings" Band took to the stage to remind people that freedom comes at a price.
"The weather is perfect today, and today has turned out superbly, and I'm glad to see everybody come out and enjoy themselves tonight," he said during the festival. "I would like to give a special welcome to our Gold Star Families who are here tonight, our wounded warriors and our Hearts Apart group with their spouses and loved ones currently deployed.
"What a wonderful thing we celebrate. We are celebrating our nation's birthday -- that 240th birthday -- and it is a time to celebrate. But everybody here knows that liberty and that freedom that we enjoy is certainly not free," he continued. "It is you of this great country -- you Soldiers and civilians and families that support this nation and defend her in time of need -- we owe you a huge debt of gratitude."
Throughout the day, those freedoms allowed people to enjoy a host of activities and entertainment in the form of live music; static displays, which included aircraft ranging from CH-47 Chinooks to AH-64 Apaches; a children's confidence course put on by the Warrant Officer Career College; a zip line; laser tag arena; bounce houses and all the fair food people could stomach, just to name a few.
Samantha Jessup, military family member, came out with her children, Michael and David, to enjoy a day of celebration that she said they were fortunate to have.
"It's such a great time to be able to come out to something like this," she said. "Military installations are a great place to be able to celebrate our Independence Day because this is where you can see firsthand the freedom that is provided by those who sacrifice in service."
It's because of those sacrifices that Jessup said she is grateful that she and her children are able to celebrate and enjoy the festivities.
"It's easy to take for granted everything that we enjoy in life because not everyone sees how hard military service can be for some, but it's a struggle that is necessary and I'm thankful every day that we have service members who are willing to take up the charge in order to provide us with a way of life that allows us to live without fear," said the mother of two. "It really gives me a sense of pride."
That sense of pride allowed her children to take on the confidence course, which Michael said made him feel like he could take on anything.
"It was a little hard to go through, but when I finished I felt good, and the Soldiers helped me through it, so it wasn't so bad," he said.
Although thousands came out to enjoy the many activities and entertainment options, including a fiery performance by the 98th Army "Silver Wings" Band, most had one thing on their minds -- fireworks.
Thousands sat in awe as explosions lit up the night sky in a variety of colors and shapes, and for many it's those bursts of light that many have come to know to symbolize our nation's independence.
"I definitely came out for the fireworks," said Jason Farone, civilian and Enterprise native. "Nothing says the Fourth of July like fireworks. You don't get to see shows like these very often. It was a perfect day to celebrate and I'm glad that Fort Rucker is here to allow us to do that, and I'm forever grateful for the service of Soldiers who allow us the freedom to do so."