FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Mother Nature rained on Fort Rucker’s Independence Day parade July 4, but other than delaying the start time for a few minutes, she did nothing to dampen the community’s spirit.The event was deemed a success by leadership, organizers and attendees, including Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander.“It was a great time,” he said. “Our people took up the challenge of coming up with an alternative for our annual Freedom Fest because of the COVID-19 pandemic and they really knocked it out of the park. I rode in the parade, and throughout the whole 5-mile route, I saw smiling faces and people having a great time celebrating our nation’s birthday. It was truly an impressive event.“We certainly missed our off-post friends from throughout the Wiregrass,” Gardner added. “Our partnerships and relationships with our surrounding communities truly make Fort Rucker a gem among the Army’s installations worldwide. We hope they had a great July 4th weekend and we look forward to inviting them back on post for Freedom Fest again in the future.”Fort Rucker’s 4th of July Celebration Home Town Parade and Fireworks Show was a big hit with the local social media crowd, as well, with the words awesome, wonderful, amazing, great, fun and thanks bandied about amidst numerous positive comments.Other fans of the event were Miss Alabama, Tiara Pennington, and Miss Alabama Outstanding Teen, Marcelle LeBlanc, who were on hand to take part in the parade and hold a meet-and-greet with local Gold Star Families.Prior to the parade, the two were treated to a tour of the post, and both thanked the Soldiers, families and employees of Fort Rucker for all they do to keep America free.“It’s been so much fun to be here celebrating America’s birthday,” Pennington said, adding that she is grateful to the Gold Star Families. “They’ve sacrificed so much so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today. It’s just amazing to have the honor to be here today, and to be in their presence and be able to thank them for everything their families have sacrificed.”LeBlanc echoed Pennington’s sentiments, adding that she really enjoyed the tour, her first time on a military installation.“We got to see some really cool helicopters and sit in the cockpit,” she said. “It was incredible hearing about all of the history here. We just want all of the Soldiers and families to know that we can’t thank them enough for allowing us to be here, for all they’ve done for us, and also for protecting the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy in this country.”A few hours after the parade, the event climaxed with a fireworks display reminiscent of past Freedom Fest celebrations, which also included a prerecorded statement from Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, that was broadcast over several local radio stations just prior to the start of the show.“Both (Command Sgt. Maj. Brian N. Hauke, Aviation Branch command sergeant major) and I want to thank everyone again for the sacrifice, cooperation and resiliency that this community here at Fort Rucker and all over the Wiregrass area has shown over the past few months to help us in this fight against the COVID-19 virus,” Francis said. “Everyone’s efforts and cooperation have been successful in allowing us to open back up much of the installation the past few weeks, and has led to us being able to do what we are doing today with our 4th of July celebrations.“Independence Day celebrates America’s birth and honors the Army’s commitment to defend our Nation,” the general continued. “Today, America’s sons and daughters carry the same patriotism and ideals of the founders with them as they serve in harm’s way around the globe in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.“The Army thanks its Soldiers, civilians and families for their service, bravery and patriotism. We are one Team in accomplishing the Army mission,” he added.“As we celebrate our Independence Day here in 2020, we continue to train here at Fort Rucker and across the Army despite COVID-19,” Francis said. “Units in combat zones require our support to conduct their mission. The Army is ready to respond globally and remains postured to execute our mission.“Again, thank you for all of your efforts in our fight against this virus. Just like many Army victories of the past, we will defeat this enemy, and be stronger and better for it,” he said. “Stay safe, have fun tonight and enjoy the fireworks show. Happy 4th of July! Above the Best!”