GATESVILLE, Texas -- The city of Gatesville displayed its appreciation for America’s troops by hosting an Independence Day celebration for deploying Soldiers mobilized at North Fort Hood here on Sunday.
The Stanley Auto Group, the North Fort Hood Ministry, and the City of Gatesville, combined their efforts to bring Soldiers from North Fort Hood off post to the Stanley Auto Group Chevrolet dealership, where the Soldiers enjoyed delicious barbecue, live music, games, and an amazing fireworks display. The Soldiers in attendance were National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers preparing to deploy overseas through North Fort Hood’s Mobilization Center.
“The mission for our group of volunteers is to take care of the community,” said Kandi Mills, general manager of Stanley Auto Group, Gatesville. “And Fort Hood is our community. The Soldiers here go all over the world to keep us safe and we want to show our appreciation and support.”
The Soldiers in attendance have been training and preparing to deploy overseas and their validation process is overseen by the 120th Infantry Brigade. The 2nd Battalion, 337th Regiment, Training Support Battalion, part of the 120th, assisted in transporting Soldiers and coordinating the event. The event provided Soldiers that are about to leave a day to rest from training and an opportunity to celebrate their country’s independence.
“What I like the most about the event is getting to see all the smiling faces,” said 1st Lt. Jordan Rouse, signal officer with the 136th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. “The support group that set up this event for us makes us feel at home. The level of care and genuine faces we see here really means a ton to me and my fellow Soldiers.”
For many of the Soldiers that attended the event, this was the last leisure activity they experienced before getting on a plane and performing their duties abroad. It’s for this reason that the volunteers at the event went the extra mile to make sure the Soldiers had a great experience.
“It is hard to put into words how supportive the citizens of Gatesville are,” said Lt. Col. Tom Fuller, Senior Guard Advisor for First Army Division West. “I came to North Fort Hood three years ago, and in that time the city of Gatesville has reached out to us time and time again with ways to ensure our Soldiers feel the local support. Before COVID, the volunteers hosted events every month to make the Soldiers feel recharged and connected to our community. For the Soldiers coming from outside of Texas, it’s a chance for them to get a taste of Texas.”
Keeping the local population connected to the Soldiers and giving the troops a sense of belonging are important matters to Fuller and the 120th. The local connection and keeping the Soldiers focused on their purpose are why events like the 4th of July celebration are so important.
“It's nice to have that whole feeling of a community,” said Fuller. “The citizens here are constantly trying to find ways to give back and let the Soldiers know that when they are away from their families, Gatesville becomes their family."
Throughout the holiday event, Soldiers were able to meet with the local volunteers, leaders, and veterans that had deployed themselves years ago. The sense of home and community was strong amongst the celebration’s attendees, just as the event coordinators had designed.
“The volunteers are showing us what a real 4th of July celebration looks like,” said Sgt. Austin Burnland, an intelligence analyst also mobilized. “It helps us feel like we are back home. We are enjoying delicious food, playing games and relaxing. It means a lot to feel valued and you can tell it means a lot to the volunteers to be able to show their appreciation to all of us going overseas to fight for their freedom.”