ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - The Soldiers of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) Command participated in the 28th annual Bel Air Christmas Parade & Tree Lighting Celebration in downtown Bel Air, Md. on Dec. 3 and were cheered on by one of the largest crowds ever to attend the event.
"This year's weather was the best!" said Michael Blum, Bel Air parade chairman. "I don't know how much that affected things, but it surely helped attract one of the largest crowds I've ever seen in downtown Bel Air and I've run almost 40 parades through the downtown area."
The command team for the 20th CBRNE Command, Brig. Gen. James Bonner, commander and native of Anna, Ill., and Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Graham, command sergeant major and native of Warren, Ohio, led the formation which included a six Soldier honor guard and an up armored Humvee.
The noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the honor guard was Sgt 1st Class John Binot, the operations sergeant for weapons of mass destruction containment team (WCT) 3 from Asbury Park, N.J. The members of the honor guard included Sgt. Eddie Slaton of Augusta, Ga.; Sgt. John Powell of San Antonio, Texas; Sgt. William Sims of Houston, Texas; Spc. Shad Bennight of Cleveland, Ohio and Pfc. William Grant of Olympia, Wash.
The troop commander for the up armored Humvee was Spc. Kayla Riehl, a petroleum supply specialist from Colorado Springs, Colo.; the driver was Pfc. Jody Bennight, a tactical power generation specialist from Cincinnati, Ohio; and the gunner was Pfc. John Frazho, a wheeled vehicle mechanic from Gatesville, Texas.
Despite civilians' widespread admiration for troops, there's little overlap between the two worlds which makes Soldier participation in community events like the Bel Air Christmas Parade that much more important.
"Representing the Army at events like this is a way to give back to the community. It is something all Soldiers should do at some point to improve relations between the civilians and Soldiers," said Grant, a satellite communications operator/maintainer in the G6 - tactical communications section. "It provides the Army a way to give kids good role models so it is important that Soldiers represent the Army well."
It has been reported that only one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. population has served or is currently serving - this is the lowest rate since between World War I and II. There are many multi-generational military families which adds to the military-civilian divide.
"I joined the Army to expand my opportunities for personal and professional growth," continued Grant. "I grew up in a military family and it has always been something that I have wanted to do. My father served for 28 years in the Army and is currently a retired lieutenant colonel."
The Soldiers enjoyed themselves and the parade organizers were grateful for their participation.
"I want to thank you all for the wonderful participation of Gen. Bonner, CSM Graham and the fine Soldiers from [the 20th] CBRNE ... it was a great parade!" exclaimed Blum. "This was a good way to integrate APG into our Bel Air Christmas celebration!"
Grant was especially thankful for the chance to connect with the local community and shared, "My favorite part of the parade was when just before it started, a little boy came up to me and thanked me for my service and for protecting him."