The annual Special Olympics track and field event just keeps getting better each year. The crowd, events and activities were even bigger than in previous years. So were the smiles.

"It's a wonderful team effort between Redstone Arsenal and the local community to be able to support this event," Army Community Service director Sue Paddock said. "For the Soldiers it's a great learning experience. We really enjoy supporting it."

Close to a thousand athletes, Soldiers, volunteers and well-wishers turned out at Milton Frank Stadium on Oct. 20 for the four and a half hour event. Among that number were 250 Soldiers from the 832nd Ordnance Battalion.

"The Soldiers did a great job as escorts," Natalie Taylor, ACS Exceptional Family Member coordinator, said. "We are so proud to have them be a part of this annual event."

The event has grown considerably over the years. This year saw volunteers from area schools and civic groups running games and booths in the stadium's infield to keep athletes and escorts entertained between sporting events. The face painting, balloon animals and sack races were particular favorites.

The crowd was also treated to performances by Sparkman Middle School's band.

While the day started out chilly, the sun soon warmed things up. Besides being a perfect day for the outdoor event, it was a perfect day for Soldiers to learn some valuable lessons.

"The weather turned out better than expected and we're having a great time," Staff Sgt. William Gravely of Charlie Company said. "This really puts things in perspective. You learn not to take things for granted. This is the first time away from home for some of these Soldiers. It's great to be able to support this event and teach these guys things (about compassion and community) you can't get in any classroom."

As the day came to a close, athletes boarded their buses to go back to their schools carrying ribbons. The Soldiers boarded their buses carrying full hearts and warm memories.

"This day captures moments that stay with us a lifetime," Taylor said. "It was wonderful weather, a wonderful event and, best of all, wonderful smiles seen on the athletes."