By Ms. Kari Hawkins ( Redstone)June 13, 2012
Armed Forces Celebration Week may be halfway over, but the fun and patriotism has just begun.
Today's Salute Luncheon, beginning at noon at the Von Braun Center's North Hall, will feature comments from the Aviation and Missile Command's new commander Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar, a Huntsville native. The Army Materiel Command Band will also perform. The luncheon is sponsored by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce and reservations are required.
Two huge events still remain for those who enjoy large gatherings brimming with ceremony, sports, food and patriotic music. All events are free and open to the public.
Army birthday celebration
On Thursday -- which is both the Army's 237th birthday and the U.S. flag's 235th birthday -- the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army invites Redstone Arsenal employees as well as the community to enjoy a picnic-style event at the Community Activity Field on Patton Road near Gate 10.
"This event is to recognize 237 years of history for the U.S. Army and to recognize the importance of the Army and the importance of the Army to our national defense. Our lead volunteer, Bill Tillman, has put together a program for recognizing and celebrating the Army birthday in a very patriotic way," Joe Fitzgerald, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce's Armed Forces Celebration Week Committee, said.
"It was a change to our schedule to encourage everyone on and off Redstone Arsenal to be able to come to an event recognizing the Army birthday and enjoy the festivities without a formal dinner or a costly event. It's opened up the recognition of the Army birthday to a larger audience."
The event will begin at 11 a.m. and continue until 1 p.m. A formal ceremony complete with an Army birthday cake cutting is set for 11:30 a.m., with those attending including the Army Materiel Command Band performing patriotic music; and leadership from the Arsenal, Huntsville and Madison. The ceremonial cake cutting will involve four cakes -- two decorated with the Army birthday "America's Army: Strength of Our Nation" theme, one with the Association of the U.S. Army logo and a fourth with the Team Redstone logo -- that will be cut in a ceremony conducted by AMC commander Gen. Ann Dunwoody along with the oldest and youngest Soldier in attendance.
Vendors will provide food for sale. Water and lemonade will be provided free by Family and Morale Welfare and Recognition.
Fitzgerald said the Redstone-Huntsville chapter of AUSA is hoping for a large turnout from both Redstone and the community.
"We are an installation of Army Soldiers and civilians, and we are supported and appreciated by this community. So, it's really exciting for us to have an event like this that's open to the entire community to celebrate the great relationship between the Army, Redstone Arsenal and the Huntsville/Madison/North Alabama community," he said.
Reservations are encouraged by contacting Bill Tillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 783-9939. Those wanting to attend the event but who don't have access to the Arsenal should also contact Tillman to get their names on a post access list for the event.
Wounded warrior softball
On Friday and Saturday, the local debut of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team will take place during three games at the Metro Kiwanis Sportsplex on Patton Road just north of Drake Avenue.
The games are set for 5 p.m. Friday against Team Redstone coached by Aviation and Missile Command's chief of staff Col. Skip Sherrell, and 7 p.m. Friday against the Senior All-Star Rockets coached by the legendary Jim "Hitman" Myers. The Saturday game, set for 4 p.m., will be against the City of Huntsville's police officers and firefighters making up a team known as "The Protectors" and coached by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. Admission is free.
But the real stars on the field will be the wounded warrior athletes.
"This is not just a national softball team," Fitzgerald said. "This is the only wounded warrior athletic team in the world. They've been adopted by the Washington Nationals (baseball team) and they are national celebrities. They are our nation's heroes."
The team is made up of Army and Marine veterans from across the nation. All are warriors who were wounded in combat. Each has a Purple Heart in their medal case. "Life without a limb is limitless" is the theme the team members live and play ball by every day.
"They've sacrificed so much for our country. We should all want to go out and see them," Fitzgerald said. "They are an inspiration to all of us."
Team members are all young, extremely athletic men who have sustained severe injuries resulting in amputation while serving in the military, and through extensive rehabilitation they have become competitive athletes again. Their armor now includes prosthetic legs and arms, along with extreme perseverance and attitude. The mission of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team is to raise awareness, through exhibition and celebrity softball games, of the sacrifices and resilience of America's military, and highlight their ability to rise above any challenge. Their goal is to show other amputees and the general population that these athletes through extensive rehabilitation and training are able to express their desires and perform the sport they loved.
The Army Materiel Command's jazz band will perform prior to each game and the Marine Corps' Kilo Battery will provide a color guard for each game. Prior to the first game on Friday, an F-16 flyover by the 187th Fighter Wing of the Alabama Air National Guard is set for 4:50 p.m.
"They will be saluting wounded warriors and military veterans, and members of our armed forces," Fitzgerald said.
The team has chosen a bat boy from Muscle Shoals who also loves to play ball. Seven-year-old Jayce Ethridge, who was born without arms, is known for his prowess on his local ballfield, where he made two doubles and a few RBIs this past season with the help of prosthetic arms.
"He's overcome hardships like the wounded warriors have," Fitzgerald said. "He joins the wounded warriors as an inspiration for us all."
Fitzgerald predicts that ball fans attending the games will quickly be cheering for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.
"The wives, children and mothers and fathers of the opposing teams will come in rooting for their players. But after the first inning those opposing teams won't have a fan in the place," he joked.
For more information about the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, visit their website at http://www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org/.
Wrapping up week
Another new event for the week will be a free movie screening of the award-winning documentary "Hell and Back Again" on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Monaco Theater at Bridge Street. The movie showing, hosted by Still Serving Veterans, will help to raise awareness of issues pertaining to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by thousands of veterans.
"Hell and Back Again," which chronicles the experiences of 25-year-old Sgt. Nathan Harris and the impact a Taliban machine gun bullet has on his life, is a 2012 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature. It also won the Grand Jury Prize and the Cinematography Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. To register for tickets, visit http://www.stillservingveterans.org.
Also, the following local attractions are offering free admission to active or retired military and military families through Saturday: U.S. Space & Rocket Center, museum free, but IMAX is $8; Huntsville Botanical Garden; Early Works Museum; Huntsville Museum of Art; Sci-Quest and Veterans Memorial Museum.
Armed Forces Celebration Week 2012 will wrap up on Saturday with the AUSA Huntsville Stars Military Appreciation Night at Joe Davis Stadium. Members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team will throw out the first pitch at 6:20 p.m. and be introduced to the spectators with the game beginning at 6:43. There are a limited number of free tickets available through Redstone ITR at the Community Activity Center.
"This whole week is meant to inspire and show appreciation," Fitzgerald said. "The next three days are about resiliency and strength of the human spirit of our armed forces. It's about the sacrifices they've made and overcome, and about the obstacles and the severe hardships that have been conquered. It is about the sacrifices made by many in service to our country."