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Boots on Broadway — ‘a token of our appreciation’

A thank-you from the civilian community to the military community, Boots on Broadway drew Soldiers, veterans and family members to uptown Columbus Saturday for an all-day, free family event.

The military heritage celebration included live music, giveaways and kids’ activities.

“I think it’s great,” said CPT Brent Gray, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, who recently returned from a tour in Iraq.

“It’s very relaxing to come back and see this kind of support for the military,” he said. “I like coming down, especially on the weekend, and just being able to spend time with my family here, being able to get to see all the stuff that’s here. It’s a lot of local businesses I see supporting the troops and their families. I’ve lived in two other military communities, and I think this one’s the best so far.”

It’s the second year Boots on Broadway has been held in Columbus, said Ms. Lisa Rowe, director of business development for UPtown Columbus Business Improvement District, a nonprofit organization devoted to facilitating growth in the uptown area.

“Obviously, Fort Benning and the military community are an important part of the economic development of the Columbus area,” she said. “This is a military town. The entire Columbus area has a special place in their heart for the military.”

During the event, UPtown Columbus gave away 360 barbecue sandwiches to Soldiers and their families.

Thanks to the donations of several local companies, the organization was also able to present a check for $2,000 to Santa’s Castle, a charity that provides Christmas presents to military children. Other giveaways included more than $2,000 in door prizes for 200 people.

Ms. Rowe estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 people attended the event.

“It’s really just a day to focus on the military for the service they have done for our country and the sacrifices they and their families have made,” Ms. Rowe said. “It’s just a very small token of our appreciation.”

“Fort Benning and Columbus need to work together,” said Mr. Bill Cytrynak, a Vietnam veteran who came out for the celebration with his wife, Debbie.

“I think it’s a great thing to come out and support everybody and show our enthusiasm,” the Smiths Station, Ala., resident said. “When I came back from Vietnam, we were spat at, and this is something where the troops now at least are honored when they come back. I believe in that.”

Mr. Cytrynak said he appreciates the “thank you” given to him as a veteran but his presence at the celebration was a way to show solidarity in supporting today’s Soldiers.Boots on Broadway coincided with Arts on the River, an annual art sale, and Market Days on Broadway, a weekly outdoor market with local food and craft vendors.

The festival also featured military demonstrations by members of 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, and static displays of a Stryker and weapons, courtesy of 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, and the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, respectively. Other activities included basketball, a kissing booth, children’s coloring books, face painting, free popcorn and bounce houses.

Ms. Leslie Pheanis, who attended the celebration with her son, 5-year-old Tristen, while her husband, SFC Travis Pheanis, was deployed, said the thanks was “a big deal.”

“Soldiers need to know they’re appreciated,” she said. “Because of the sacrifices we (make), it’s nice to know people acknowledge what we have to go through.”