By Rob McIlvaineSeptember 11, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 11, 2011) -- The Army's Spirit of America, staged at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9 and 10, will continue to astonish audiences Sept. 16 and 17 in North Charleston Coliseum, S.C., and Sept. 23 and 24 at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in Florida.
At the first show on Friday morning, the continuing rain couldn't hold the audience back. Even though some school students couldn't make it because of flooded streets and resulting school closings, Verizon Center was filled with anticipation as the lights went down.
"I thought my daughter might be frightened by the gunfire," said Cheryl Brunner with Alexis, 5, but she loved it. This is a very educational show and the battle scenes really added to the realism. We really need a show like this during these times."
Thunderous applause subsided as three Soldiers began to speak.
"Ten years ago, this month, war came to America. Today, we'll take a look back at that day to remember those we lost. We'll witness the perseverance, resilience and enduring values that have carried us as an Army and a nation for 236 years."
These times began on Sept. 11, 2001 and the show began with the sound of airplanes overhead. Large photos at one end of the stadium showed the twin towers of the World Trade Center and then a fireball enveloped the scene with loud explosions.
"We have some indication of fire and smoke in the Pentagon," said the narrator.
Prior to that day 10 years ago, plans suddenly changed for the cast and crew. As Soldiers were making their final preparations to bring Spirit of America to Columbus, Ohio, the terrorist attack on the Pentagon required the entire 3rd Infantry Regiment to assist in the recovery operation. The show was cancelled.
Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Safarian, a member of the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps who worked as arranger for the show, joined the Army in 2001 right before Sept. 11.
"I just came out of basic training in July and I was in the middle of training for my unit, becoming a fifer, and learning all the maneuvering for marching and then Sept. 11 happened.
"We ended up on the Pentagon lawn doing extraction of remains and cleanup of the area. Also, we were guarding Fort Myer. So, our duties aren't limited to being a musician. We're needed whenever the Army needs us and they'll implement us in other strategic ways. That's the mission of the Old Guard, to protect this area from attack," Safarian said.
In 2002, said the show's history brief, the Spirit of America show returned with heightened spirit. American patriotism was at an all-time high. Americans were united in the cause of freedom and the Army's core values stood as the centerpiece.
What began as a winter show held on the grounds of Fort Myer before World War II, and later resurrected in 1961, Spirit of America remains a showcase of the ceremonial units in the Military District of Washington which highlight the Army's story.
This year, with a stirring opening followed by two acts and a grand finale, Spirit of America includes battle scenes with cannon, assault rifles and flintlocks, and Soldiers descending by rope from unseen helicopters. The second act features the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the Caisson Platoon, the Commander-in-Chief's Guard, the Continental Color Guard and the U.S. Army Drill Team.
The theme is a celebration of military members who are "The Strength of the Nation" and their perseverance through days of challenge.
"Excellent," was all Kate Crummitt could say. She and her husband, Kenny, brought their two children, Kathryn, 10, and Kaitlyn, 11, to the show to see Soldiers doing the jobs that keep the nation free. Their children are home schooled and the show filled the bill with dramatic education.
After viewing the precision Drill Team, all Donnie Joyner could say is, "Discipline, discipline, discipline, discipline." He was so impressed with the precision of actual rifles with sharp bayonets being thrown over the heads of the Soldiers as they caught them in perfect timing.
"The show is great," said Kami Baker, 13, who came to see the show along with her sister Kylie, 14, brother Isaac, 17 months, and mom Wendy.
"The show was incredible," said Wendy, who talked about her family's patriotism.
"My other daughter, Shaye, is marrying a man who graduates from Virginia Tech and will be commissioned in the Army on May 12," she said, adding her father is a retired Navy man.
Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, who's been in the Army for 31 years, was named commanding general of the Military District of Washington in June 2011 after returning from Afghanistan in April. The show is under his command.
"The fact that (this show) is done by Soldiers -- the actors, the music, the choreography and all of that is Soldiers, and it's phenomenal -- it just shows how talented our youngsters are. They can do anything. You give them the mission and they'll exceed your expectations," he said.
Linnington, who saw Spirit of America for the first time on Friday, said he was impressed by the show.
"I was blown away at how good the Soldiers were after only a month or two of practice and they're not professionals. These are infantrymen, military policemen from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Old Guard, (stationed at the former Fort Myer, now called Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.). They're regular Soldiers (who) took a couple of months, memorized their lines and performed phenomenally," Linnington said.
Linnington, whose family joined him from their home in Cape May, N.J., was not afraid to admit that he became emotional several times during the show.
"It brought back a lot of memories of places I'd been and times in our past, 9/11 specifically," he said.
He said the Spirit of America is in keeping with the objectives of both the Army chief of staff and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who make it a point to keep the Army connected with the American people.
"That's why I'm glad today was a show that welcomed school-age children to come -- learn something about history, learn something about their Army and learn something about their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents that serve our Army.
"The strength of America is America's Army. The strength of America's Army is the Soldiers, and the strength of the Soldier is the supporting family. Without the family, we won't have a strong Army, so by holding our family close and honoring them, the show is thanking them for their support," Linnington said.
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