FORT BENNING, Ga. - Fireworks blazed, hissed and crackled in the sky above York and Gardner fields, synchronized with the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band as spectators watched during Fort Benning's Independence Day celebration here June 29.

The musical fireworks concluded the celebration, which included performances by country music band Lady Antebellum and country music artist Bailey Bryan, special operations fast-roping maneuver demonstrations, a parachute jump, and many activities for Fort Benning Soldiers, Families, civilians and community members of the surrounding Chattahoochee Valley.

The event was in celebration of the 243rd anniversary of the founding of the United States of America, July 4, 1776. Though typically an Independence Day celebration would take place on the federal holiday itself, the garrison organized the event for the Saturday before so Soldiers, many of whom were working to support the event, and their Families could enjoy the federal holiday off.

The post was open to the public Saturday, and residents from Columbus, Georgia, Phenix City, Alabama, and other neighboring communities came to enjoy the fair-like atmosphere. According to an estimate from the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, which organized the event, 20,000 people attended the event.

Col. Matthew Scalia, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning, said it's the garrison's way of giving back to the community, which supports Fort Benning's Soldiers and Families.

Children bounced, slid down, and ran through inflatable structures shaped like houses, slides, a fanged and spiked lizard, a polar bear, a sabretooth tiger, a law enforcement vehicle and more. Children got into bungee harnesses to make high-leaping trampoline jumps. An exotic traveling zoo included kangaroos and a dromedary camel as well as pot-bellied pigs, goats and calves.

Attendees had their choices of cuisine on the field. Besides the typical fest food - funnel cake, ice cream, fried Oreos and Snickers - the crowd ate Cajun, Puerto Rican and German food, barbecue and more.

Many brought lawn chairs and plotted out spaces in anticipation of the musical acts.

As the afternoon progressed, the sunny, partly cloudy weather cooled and rain drenched York Field and the headquarters building. Nevertheless, before the rain developed into a pour, Families watched the Silver Wings parachute team drop from a helicopter to land on Stewart-Watson Field.

Shortly after the parachutists had gathered up their parachutes, a UH-60 helicopter flew in low, and a team of Soldiers fast-roped onto the field. They stayed in formation on the field, and when the helicopter returned, the team hooked themselves onto the rope. The helicopter then lifted away from the field, hoisting several Soldiers with it into the air.

Beyond these aerial demonstrations to showcase Soldier prowess, community members met with Soldiers who operate and maintain an M1A2 Abrams tank, on which they climbed.

The MCoE Band opened the evening of musical performances late in the afternoon. They were followed by Bailey Bryan.

As the clouded sky darkened into evening, country band Lady Antebellum took the stage, and the crowd listened to them play a set that ended with their 2009 hit "Need You Now."

At the close of Lady Antebellum's set, the MCoE Band took the stage to play during fireworks, playing the "1812 Overture" by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with accompanying cannon fire, the 1988 hit "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns N' Roses, and more. During a medley of the Armed Services songs, the colors of the fireworks matched up with the music being played, red and gold for the U.S. Marines, blue and gold for the Navy, gold and green for the Army.

The Saturday celebration finished with a final, explosive volley of fireworks as the band played John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."

To see more photos from the event, visit www.fortbenningphotos.com/Ceremonies-and-Events/Off-Post-Events/2019-Community-Events/2019-06-29-Independence-Day-Celebration.