For 26-year-old soldier Hector Vara, Saturday was a much-welcomed break from training at Fort Benning.
Vara, who was downtown for the God Bless Fort Benning celebration, said he was enjoying mingling with civilians.
“This is a nice break,” said the El Paso, Texas, native. “It’s nice to have a conversation about every day life rather than what we’re doing in training tomorrow.”
Vara joined more than 10,000 soldiers, families and other supporters downtown for the Columbus event, held every year to show gratitude to U.S. military and their families.
“Thank you for what you do for us — not just here at Fort Benning and Georgia, but around the world,” Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington told an afternoon crowd at 11th Street and Broadway.
Soldiers received plenty of free perks at the event — food, drinks, video game and cell phone use, and even massages.
Soldiers crowded the Verizon Wireless booths, which were offering soldiers free phone calls all day long.
Down the street at a smaller booth, Club Beyond, a youth ministry on Fort Benning, was providing free calls as well. But in their case, 13 teens in the ministry had given up their cell phones for the day so soldiers could use them.
“It’s more of a service project,” said Steve Paquette, former soldier and Club Beyond community director.
“It’s something simple,” Pacquette added as he gestured toward the booth, “but as you can see, we’re really busy.”
Throughout the day, attendees also enjoyed music and entertainment on the God Bless Fort Benning stage. Local musicians, the Columbus Ballet and the Mt. Zion praise team sang and danced for the crowds.