FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The South Carolina State Fair is rolling out the red carpet - and a smile - for Soldiers this year.

Fair officials have instituted a new military appreciation admission policy they are calling "Smile City Salute." Active military, Reserve Soldiers, Army civilians and family members will be admitted to the fair for free with proper identification during its 12-day run.

"Over the years, the citizens of South Carolina have always been the most patriotic in times of peace and war," said Nancy Smith, fair spokeswoman. "We thought this would be a great thing to do in honor of our servicemen and women. With the hardships our military families face, we hope this is a highlight for them."

The fair, which began Wednesday, runs through Oct. 24 at the State Fairgrounds, 1200 Rosewood Drive, Columbia. Gates are open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 10 p.m. the first Sunday and noon to 9 p.m. the last Sunday.

Retirees and their families with proper military identification will also receive free admission on both Sundays of the fair.

"This is great," said Ronald Clarkson, a Navy retiree. "Especially now with the way the economy is going. I probably won't go, but there are younger retirees with children who could really use a good time right about now."

The fair will also offer free admission to Fort Jackson Basic Combat Training graduates and their families and guests following graduation. 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment graduates Oct. 14 and 3rd Bn., 13th Inf. Reg. graduates Oct. 21. Those Soldiers will be given flyers to present at the gates along with their military ID cards.

"This is a little way for us to show (that) South Carolina appreciates their sacrifices and give them a place to come and have fun," Smith said.

In addition to the food, rides, exhibits and competitions there are several concerts planned for this year's fair. Country star Miranda Lambert starts things off 7 p.m. Friday with a show. Other concerts include Boyz II Men, the Oak Ridge Boys and Darius Rucker.

Popular rides this year include Cliff Hanger, Sky Glider, Niagra Falls Flume and Mega Drop - just to name a few.

And don't forget the food. There will be more than 90 food vendors this year. New fair foods this year include fried pickles, fried butter, a doughnut burger and fried sauerkraut balls.

Exhibits focus on the arts, animals, agriculture, baked goods and flowers. There will also be a Greatest Grandparents Contest and Prince and Princess Pageant.