CAMP ZAMA, Japan (July 6, 2021) – Although last-minute inclement weather forced it indoors, Camp Zama’s Independence Day celebration drew an enthusiastic crowd and was a tremendous success for the community, one of the event’s lead organizers said.
Held July 3 inside the installation’s Community Recreation Center, the event offered an afternoon of live music, dancing, and USA-themed arts and crafts—a scaled-down but still lively celebration that the Camp Zama Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation team worked hard to ensure would be memorable for everyone, said Rick Bosch, FMWR director.
“We truly pride ourselves on offering quality programs to the Camp Zama community,” Bosch said. “Despite the scaled-down indoor version, the attendance at the event surpassed our expectations, and we received great feedback from the community.”
The Independence Day theme greeted patrons from the moment they entered the venue: American flags; red, white and blue balloons; and a colorfully dressed Uncle Sam who posed for photos with adults and children alike.
Inside, FMWR concession workers handed out free hot dogs, popcorn, water and soft drinks. An arts-and-crafts section was also set up where children could paint an American flag plaque or decorate a reusable tote bag.
Shortly after the doors opened, the first of two performances by the U.S. Army Japan Band began in the CRC auditorium. First up was the USARJ Concert Band, whose set list included a number of orchestral standards and other patriotic tunes. Closing out the afternoon was the USARJ Jazz Combo Band, a first-time pairing of members of USARJ’s Jazz and Brass bands.
The five-piece outfit—a bass guitarist, electric guitarist, keyboardist, saxophonist and drummer—played nimbly through an upbeat 40-minute set that showcased the group’s knack for improvisation.
“We rehearse, of course, for months and months in advance and learn our tunes, but the thing about jazz is that we’re malleable,” Cpl. Asher “Ash” Askew, the group’s bassist, said. “We learn to work off of each other so that when we solo, we can come up with ideas on the fly.”
That chemistry between the players is key when it comes to performing jazz, Askew said. He noted that the group came together exceptionally well onstage despite the USARJ Band not having held a live concert in an indoor venue for several months due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“That’s the awesome thing about this band, is that we have so many really good musicians,” Askew said. “When we asked the Brass Band to collaborate on this, they were like, ‘Awesome. We already know we can do this.’
“Seeing everybody out there, enjoying [the music] and dancing around, singing and clapping their hands was awesome,” he continued. “And especially during a time like this, it was such an important time for us to be out there, celebrating our independence.”
The event concluded with the lights dimming in the auditorium and several children and parents coming onstage to make use of the multicolored “glow sticks” they received at the CRC entrance. As a DJ played music, contestants in different age groups competed in a dance-off, with the winners earning free theme park tickets as a prize.
Jennifer Burns, whose 6-year-old son Lucas won the dance-off in his age division, said she was happy the installation was able to adjust the event and move it indoors so that the community could celebrate.
“[Independence Day is] our national holiday, and I think this brought us all a little bit closer to home, having an event like this together,” Burns said. “Everything worked out really well, and the kids had a really great time, especially the dance party. The Community Center was a great place to do it.”
Bosch said he and the rest of the FMWR team like to think of themselves as “the heartbeat” of the Camp Zama community, and they take pride in being able to organize events that will create lifelong memories. This mission will continue even as the world continues to deal with COVID-19, Bosch said.
“It is more important than ever to provide these types of community events to enhance the community’s resiliency. We are looking forward to next month when we partner with [the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force] to celebrate Bon Odori, a meaningful and important Japanese holiday.”