CHIEVRES AIR BASE, Belgium – The normally calm and quiet airfield here was transformed into the American Wild West for two days during Chièvres Air Base (CAB) Fest 2023.
Filled with the sights and sounds of the American frontier, thousands of U.S. and NATO military members, Department of Defense civilians and local Belgians visited the base on Sept. 15 and 16 to celebrate American culture, cuisine and international friendship.
From country music bands, classic cars and Texas barbecue to rodeo performances, cowboy hats and carnival rides, the CAB Fest offered something fun for children and adults alike.
This year’s CAB Fest was a unique first in that it did not focus on aircraft. Instead of a traditional air festival, the fest was based on “Americana” culture with the theme of “Route 56”, which highlights the air base’s location near Belgium’s N56 roadway and pays homage to the famous “Route 66” in the U.S.
“Our heartfelt thanks go to everyone who has helped make this an amazing event,” said Col. Lindsay R. Matthews, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux. “Our teams have worked really hard to deliver a fun and safe event.”
The strong, enduring partnership between the garrison and local community was also a theme of this year’s CAB Fest.
“Thank you to Col. Matthews and her staff for welcoming us to the base and for organizing this event for the community,” said Olivier Hartiel, mayor of the town of Chièvres “Sometimes the local population doesn't always understand what Chièvres Air Base is all about, so I appreciate the opportunity for our citizens to come see what you offer and what you do for them.”
Hartiel also talked about the high level of mutual respect between the garrison and local community.
“One of the key words is respect.,” he said. “Respect for the environment, respect for the base, respect for the relationship that has been developed between the air base and the people of Chièvres. I firmly believe that events like this reinforce the social aspect of the relationship and strengthen our friendship."
Although the theme of the fest was the American West, there was also a strong international feel to the event because of the multinational NATO community nearby at SHAPE. Military members and Families from a myriad of Allied nations attended to experience American culture in a different and more interactive way than what they see on television and in movies.
One of the SHAPE visitors was Col. Jindrich Polek, from Czechia (sometimes referred to in English as the Czech Republic).
“We really liked the fest,” said Polek. It was an opportunity to enjoy the afternoon in an international environment where there was a wide range of entertainment not only for adults, but also for children. I liked the country music production on the main stage and the souvenir shops were interesting with t-shirts, cowboy hats, belt buckles and models of American cars. The horses and horse-riding shows, together with the merry-go-rounds, were the biggest attraction for the children. This event brought a piece of America to us to enjoy for an afternoon.”
For 1st Sgt. Gorka Aparicio Sanchez, another NATO community member from Spain, CAB Fest offered his family new insight into American culture.
“We have never seen a rodeo style horse-riding show before and we think it’s an authentic representation of the American spirit, said Sanchez. “Our children also liked the horse and the birds of prey, which were really interesting for them to see.”
For Americans stationed at the air base, the CAB Fest was a refreshing taste of home.
Some, like Air Force Senior Airman Timon Richardson, a Security Forces member from the 424th Air Base Squadron, visited with his wife and children for both days of the fest.
“This is really nice, it’s something for people to get away and relax,” said Richardson.
He said he was impressed by the variety of stunts performed at the horse-riding show and that his children enjoyed the car show with cars from different eras.
In addition to the horse-riding skills and stunt show, CAB Fest also featured Wild West themed youth activities sponsored by USAG Benelux’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation.
Other entertainment included a steady stream of rock and country music performances by the SHAPE International Band, U.S. band American Authors (courtesy of Armed Forces Entertainment), Garth Brooks and Bruce Springsteen tribute bands and several other local and regional music artists.
USAG Benelux has already started planning for CAB Fest 2024, so the tradition of having an annual festival to celebrate the garrison’s strong bonds with the local community continues in earnest for next year and beyond.
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