By Laura M. Levering/Northwest GuardianJuly 7, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- There was no shortage of sunshine nor sensory overload on Joint Base Lewis-McChord Monday during its annual Freedom Fest.
The combination of rides, entertainment, games, food and ideal weather made for an impressive turnout at what many regard as the installation’s signature annual event.
Open to both the public and military ID cardholders, the Fourth of July celebration attracted even more than the projected 30,000 people.
“Crowd-wise, it’s easily been one of our best years,” said Bill Strock, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Better Opportunities for Single Servicemembers adviser and Nelson Recreation Center supervisor.
Headlining the evening’s entertainment was Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, along with The Classy Chassis show, which featured a near record of more than 200 cars.
This was Shante Abarabar’s fourth year going to Freedom Fest, but it was the first time her entire Family accompanied her.
During previous years, her husband was unable to join in the fun because of deployments.
Even her father, who is also military, was able to join the Family at the JBLM event.
Abarabar said the celebration was a time for her to be thankful despite the hardships she and many others have recently endured.
“The past few years have been kind of tough with the war going on, people losing their jobs " even with all the negativity, America is still one of the best countries,” Abarabar said. “It’s important to take time out to really recognize that and to take pride in it.”
For 10-year-old Kylie Weber, seeing all of the patriotic displays amidst red, white and blue made her swell with pride as she thought of her father, an active duty Soldier and Iraq veteran.
“I’m so proud of him,” Weber said. “It reminds me of what a good job he does and what he does to help all of us.”
While dozens of food and game booths attracted those looking for unique treats and a chance to show off their competitive skills, others set up to raise money or awareness for different causes and JBLM Troop 62 was one of them.
“We’re here to help relieve some of the cost off the parents so their boys can go to camp this year,” said Lori Ishoy, committee chair for JBLM Troop 62.
Instead of hosting a traditional food or game booth, the troop took a unique approach by selling time to anyone who wished to “jail” somebody.
A mere three dollars condemned the payer’s person of choice to 15 minutes behind a makeshift jail cell. Ishoy said raising money was one of two purposes she had being at Freedom Fest.
“I want to let the men and women who are sacrificing for us know that I appreciate it, and what better way than to come here on the (base) and give of our time to let them have a good time,” she said. “It’s a wonderful experience for these scouts to realize that they’re helping out other Families who are going through similar situations.”
The JBLM Fire and Emergency Services brought its fire safety trailer for demonstrations and handed out information in hopes of educating everyone on the dangers and prevention of fire throughout the year " not just Independence Day when fireworks are a fixture.
“We’re here to get the word out from the little ones all the way up, but especially to the little ones,” said Donald Lane, chief of Fire Prevention.
By 6 p.m., the area in front of the main stage at Memorial Stadium had filled with people awaiting the featured concert of the evening. Specialist Scott Wilson of 63rd Ordnance Battalion got there early to spread a blanket near the stage.
“I’m a big fan of Gary Sinise,” Wilson said. “When I heard that his band was going to be here, I wasn’t going to miss it.”
Even closer to the stage was Sarah Roberts, a Tacoma registered nurse who has Family members in all branches of the service except the Coast Guard.
“I love what Gary Sinise does to support the USO,” Roberts said. “I want to be out to support my troops. I’m here with my very best friend. It’s a beautiful day. What more can you ask for? We live in an amazing country.”
If there was anything missing, it was military displays. Strock said he heard few complaints about the event, but received a number of questions about their lack. He explained to those missing military static displays that because Freedom Fest was designed as a community event in which servicemembers and civilians alike could celebrate, they would require the work of already busy servicemembers.
The DFMWR staff was intent on setting aside the nation’s birthday as a day of rest and recreation for military members.
“Fourth of July should always bring a sense of community, and this is that (JBLM) community event,” Strock said. “This is their day to relax and have a good time, too, and I hope they feel that we’ve provided them entertainment on a day that’s worthy of them.”