CHIÈVRES, Belgium – When U.S. Army Garrison Benelux opened Chièvres Air Base Sept. 25 to the off-post community for the first time in 25 years, the off-post community thronged.
An estimated 15,000 Belgians, Americans, and other allied partners attended the inaugural Chièvres Air Fest, where they climbed into static aircrafts, interacted with period-uniformed volunteers and historic vehicles, ate food from local vendors, listened to live music and watched fireworks.
The fest was the first time since 1996 that the air base hosted a community event of this scale.
To accommodate a crowd of this size, garrison personnel ensured everyone entering post had received vaccinations for COVID-19, had recovered from COVID-19 within the past six months or had a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Col. James Yastrzemsky, the commander of the garrison, welcomed the gathered multitude.
“I am reminded of the deep gratitude our host nation displays for our U.S. service members who came before us and served and sacrificed on this sacred ground that we serve on each day,” he said. “You guys consider it a duty to remember, and we are forever grateful for that.”
Shortly after he finished speaking, Belgian paratroopers descended on the airfield from a bright blue sky.
Outside the open bay doors of hangars 1 and 2 at the airfield, planes and helicopters and their crews greeted visitors. The U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and Belgian, Romanian and Slovenian air forces brought their aircrafts to the event. The pilots and crews showed the visitors the cockpit and gave tours of the larger aircrafts. Personnel from 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, stationed at Katterbach Army Airfield in Ansbach, Germany, fitted children with helmet and flight vest outside of their AH64 helicopter. A glider group from the Zutendaal, Belgium in the tri-border area brought their glider with them. And an Airbus A400M, a turboprop military transport aircraft, landed at and took off from the airfield.
Between hangars 1 and 2, visitors got a close-up look at a variety of historic military vehicles. They also got the chance to talk with the volunteers who dressed in period uniform and showed off their vehicles.
Also between the hangars, Families enjoyed carnival games, including a high striker, ax-throwing contest, lasso roping and more.
The visual centerpiece inside Hangar 1 was an M3 Stuart light tank named “Fish n’ Chips” behind which hung an American flag several meters wide and tall.
The International Museum of Chièvres Air Base was on hand and interacting with guests, and the Belgian Air Component, who were celebrating their 75th anniversary, were on hand as well.
The Mons Memorial Museum, who showed their feature-length partially reenacted documentary Résistantes, which recounted the story of female Belgian resistance fighters during World War II, including that of Léonce Descamps, who reported German aircraft movement at Chièvres in 1944 when she was 16. Descamps herself was in attendance at distinguished visitors reception at Hangar 1.
As live music and a DJ played, Families purchased a variety of foods from vendors on the tarmac, picnicking on the grassy area and eating Greek, Texan, Mexican and many other types of food.
As the sun sank into the west, the carnival rides started up.
In Hangar 2, tables were set up, as was a mechanical bull. But as evening deepened, the concert stage lit up, and singer and Belgian-American celebrity BJ Scott performed a set of her rock and blues repertoire. Scott, besides for being a famous singer and performer in Belgium, is also one of the coaches on The Voice Belgique, the French-speaking Belgian version of The Voice television franchise. She is also a radio show host on French-speaking Classic 21.
After her set concluded, the crowd left the hangars and watched a display of fireworks to finish the evening.