Cloudy skies and the threat of some rain didn't stop thousands from filling the York Field at Fort Benning for its annual Independence Day Celebration.
Sponsored by the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the event gave soldiers and their families a chance to have some fun before visiting relatives over the July 4 holiday. Open to the public, the free event featured more than a dozen bouncy houses, face painting for children, food vendors, cars on display, live music and a scheduled fireworks display later in the evening.
More fun was available at a carnival set up near York Field with 13 thrill rides. A $10 wristband allowed unlimited rides until 10 p.m.
Rachael and Sgt. Josh Garcia have only been on at Fort Benning for a month since leaving Hawaii but they found the celebration impressive.
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"We think it's really nice," Rachael said. "We are pretty impressed. It seems like they've got a lot to offer for the families. We are excited to explore a little bit more."
Rachael said her son was trying to figure out what to do on the field.
"I don't think he has narrowed it down yet," she said. "He is shell-shocked at all the things to try."
Manny Rodriguez, a disabled veteran from Columbus, said it was his second trip to the celebration, which gives his grandchildren a place to work off some energy.
"It's great," said Rodriguez, who was wearing a superman T-shirt. "We love it. It's something to do to get out of the house. We just hope the weather cooperates with us."
A visit to the celebration was a family affair for Sasha Evans, who was with her brother and sister. Sasha was happy to see the green field after spending time in the Mojave Desert in California.
"Just chilling with the family," said Sasha, a rising 11-grader at Russell County High School. "It's fun."
She said they all planned to stay for the fireworks show.
While the event was scattered over the grassy parade field, officials said some 4,000 soldiers were expected during the night.
Pfc. Cody Laster, who is in cavalry scout training at the U.S. Armor School, said the celebration was better than staying in the barracks. In less than three weeks, he is expected to head to his new assignment in Hawaii.
Dillon Helm said it felt good to get out after returning to Fort Benning. He went home for 30 days for an operation.
"It's good," Helm said of all the food and other activities for soldiers. "It's nice to get out of the bay."