Thousands attend Independence Day Celebration at Fort Benning

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJune 28, 2014 

Under overcast skies at Fort Benning, thousands filled York Field Saturday afternoon for the annual Independence Day Celebration that included plenty of music and activities for families.

"This is a perfect day," said Bridgett Siter, a spokeswoman for the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. "We are loving the overcast skies."

Crowds spilled onto the field in front of McGinnis-Wickam Hall before the event kicked off at 3 p.m. Lines went up quickly at 25 bounce houses for children, the rock-climbing wall and even the 34-foot jump tower at nearby Eubanks Field. A carnival at Gardner Field also attracted a crowd.

Bruce Proctor was with his wife, Elaine, and grandson, Mekhi. As the boy waited to get on a high-flying trampoline, Proctor said his family has been frequent visitors to the event since he retired as a master sergeant at Fort Hood, Texas, and moved to Columbus in 1999.

"We came out here about 10 times out of the 15 years I have been here," he said.

Proctor said his family planned to leave before the celebration ended at 10 p.m.

For many soldiers still in basic training, the event offered a break from daily duties, said Pfc. Zachary Stayton, 21, of Covington, Ky.

He said one of the best events was Verizon Wireless offering free calls home for soldiers.

"I talked on the phone for 18 minutes," he said. "I called my grandfather who raised me and my fiance. It was amazing."

Pvt. Robert Rodriquez, 22, of Santa Barbara, Calif., summed up the day as one of relief.

"Just to be able to get away and kind of relax," he said.

At nearby Eubanks Field, Kerri Bertke of Waverly Hall and Pvt. Bronson Randolph waited in line for an hour for Bertke to jump from the 34-foot tower.

"It was good," she said after the jump at 5 p.m. "By the time you jumped, it was over with before you know it."

Bertke said she would get on the tower again but the line was too long.

"It was definitely worth it," she said.

Randolph, who is at Benning for Airborne and Ranger training, said it was Bertke's idea to get on the tower where he has trained.

"I told her I would let her go before," he said.

For Alexandria Hoang, the celebration is always good for the family. The Army wife brought their two children, McKenzie and MaKai, to the event.

"We come every year," she said. "We like the carnival with it. It's a nice family event."

Siter expected the crowd to soar later in the evening. Some people who have never been on post for the celebration were calling for directions, she said.

"This year we got call after call," she said.

At 9 p.m., Siter said a new Kia vehicle would be given away to a soldier or the spouse of a service member. The celebration was expected to end with a dramatic fireworks display, one of the largest ever in the Chattahoochee Valley, she said.

Hoang was set for the evening.

"We were here when it opened," she said. "We will be here all day."

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