FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 6, 2018) -- Hundreds of young athletes and volunteers from Fort Benning and Columbus, Georgia, Phenix City, Alabama, and surrounding communities gathered at the Fort Benning main post April 6 to take part in the Tri-Community Field Day.
The annual event, now in its fifth year, celebrates exceptional children of Fort Benning and the surrounding school districts (Chattahoochee County, Fort Benning, Harris County, Muscogee County, Phenix City, and Russell County) and homeschooled children.
The event is organized by the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) of the Fort Benning Army Community Service (ACS).
Volunteers provide ability-appropriate activities, outdoor games and events for children and young adults ages 3 through 21 years old who have impaired hearing or vision, use wheelchairs, have disabilities, are autistic, have medical or educational needs, and are EFMP enrollees.
"From where I stand, this is a great and enthusiastic event," said Maj. Gen. Gary M. Brito, Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general, during his opening remarks. "We have some very happy and gifted athletes in the Chattahoochee Valley."
Brito went on to outline some of the rules of the event:
1) Have some fun,
2) Challenge yourselves,
3) Encourage your friends and your teammates,
4) Make at least one new friend, and
5) Have some fun.
"I want each and every one of you to know that you can do and achieve anything you set your mind to," said Brito. "I know that, your teachers know it, and your parents know it. And, trust me, at the end of today, you will know it."
After Brito's remarks, a group on stage lit a torch, similar to an Olympic flame, and the games began. Those games included 25-, 50- and 100-meter runs, 25-meter dash, 25-meter kickball carry, bocce ball, basketball, football, soccer shoot, home run derby, tennis ball throw, kickball lawn bowling, indoor kickball bowling, Frisbee toss, bean bag target toss and a combination event.
"There's something for every single one of the kids, regardless of what their challenge is, there is something for them to compete in," said Col. Clinton W. Cox, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning commander. "They'll all get a medal, they'll make some great friends, they'll eat some great food -- provided by our sponsors here -- and really just have fun and enjoy the day."
The inaugural event in 2014 had athletes numbering in the dozens. Since then participation has multiplied nearly fifty-fold to 1,130 registered athletes and more than 750 volunteers to facilitate the games and participation.
Al Gelineau, director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR), ACS's parent organization, in his remarks said the event was intended "to partner with our neighbors across the Chattahoochee Valley, to offer exceptional family members an opportunity to enjoy a world-class experience that would stretch their limits and show them just what they're capable of -- so much more than they realize."
"It's about being included," said Cox. "These are Army children, these are children from the community that sometimes don't have the same opportunities as other kids. So this is about us building their resiliency, bringing them together as a team, making great friends, and having the opportunity to succeed and achieve their goals and set within their means. And we're excited to be able to provide a small opportunity for that to occur within the tri-community here."
Cox said this event was an opportunity to reciprocate to the communities in the Chattahoochee Valley for their partnership over the 100-year relationship.
"We have a good relationship with communities outside of Fort Benning," said Cox. "We have to give back to the local community for all they do for Fort Benning and our Families and our Soldiers who live and work here.
"We want to continue to grow, we want to continue to be as inclusive as we can," said Cox. "This year there are 100 more kids than there were last year, so it just keeps building."
The event was also a way for volunteers to contribute to their communities. Charlotte Jackson, deputy director of DFMWR, said both high school students and exceptional family members were there to support the athletes.
"For a Family to be able to get together and participate in an event like this, it's just wonderful," said Jackson.
Michelle Wilson and Sgt. 1st Class Liam Wilson, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, brought their daughter Sophia to the event, who had fun playing the games. The Wilsons have been at Fort Benning for two years, and this is the second Tri-Community Field Day they attended.
"It's really important for the kids to have their whole Family get together and have fun," said Michelle Wilson of why Families should take part in the event.
"Look at their faces, and you can see why this is so important," Jackson said. "Every one of them walked away with a T-shirt and a medal, and you'll see these medals in their rooms for the rest of their life, because it's just that important to them."
Cox and the Command Sgt. Maj. Connie L. Rounds awarded medals, as did other on-post Army leadership. The Silver Wings parachutists landed at Stewart-Wilson Field and greeted the athletes. At Smith Fitness Center, where several of the games were held, two community leaders presented awards to the athletes there. Cecil Cheves, race director of the Soldier Marathon, and Chuck Rossi, Georgia president of Liberty Utilities, were two community leaders who both said they found personal satisfaction in the event.
"I know the challenges of these Families uniquely," said Rossi, who also has an autistic daughter. "And these aren't all just Fort Benning Families, they're all from the area around here. So an opportunity to reach out and give these Families a little bit of a break today, to celebrate these kids is something we couldn't pass up."
"Seeing these smiling faces of these kids just warms your heart, so it's just a way for the community of Columbus to be a part of what's going on out here at Fort Benning," said Cheves.
To learn more about the Exceptional Family Member Program at Fort Benning, see "Exceptional Family Member Program" in the "Related Links" section on this page.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Fort Benning, visit "Fort Benning Army Community Service" in the "Related Links" section on this page.