Few days bring the local military and civilian communities together like Armed Forces Day.
Thousands of people from the Central Savannah River Area gathered to honor service members, past and present, at Evans Towne Center Park on May 15.
This year’s Thunder Over Evans was scaled back from previous years with a start time of 6:15 p.m., versus previous years’ daylong event, but the entertainment was strong and its purpose the same.
“We cannot lose sight that there was a time when the men and women of the armed forces weren’t celebrated. Today is not that day,” said Don Clark, Army Veteran and emcee for the event. “Today we stand proud as a community and celebrate the men and women of our armed forces.”
The majority of attention was on the park’s amphitheater this year, where a series of formalities took place, beginning with Fort Gordon’s Color Guard marching across the stage, representing all branches of service. Capt. Diana Contreras, a cyber officer with the U.S. Army Cyber School, sang the national anthem and was followed by the Fort Gordon Volunteer Navy Choir, who sang “America: My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and “America the Beautiful.” Other Fort Gordon participants included Staff Sgt. Robert Ortiz, of 369th Signal Battalion, recently named Fort Gordon’s 2021 NCO of the Year, who recited the “Soldier’s Creed.”
Maj. Gen. Neil S. Hersey, U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon commanding general and distinguished guest, told the audience he was “absolutely inspired” by everyone who participated in the event, adding that Armed Forces Day is a chance to recognize “the heroism that has been exhibited for years that makes our military service the best in the world.”
Hersey went on to say it was incredible to see members of the community come together to honor those who serve in the armed forces. He also acknowledged sacrifices of family members and the service of those who served in the past, whom he asked to stand.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these are members of your community. We have heroes in our community,” Hersey said of the Veterans who stood.
He also asked everyone to remember that there are service members deployed around the world who are serving in harm’s way and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Following the ceremony, The Party Crashers, a cover band from Salt Lake City, engaged the audience in two hours of music. The night ended with a massive fireworks display and a patriotic lightshow using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.