Three times, Jeremiah Ferguson has returned home from combat deployments — and always, there are welcome-home celebrations.
But he says he’s never seen anything like the party thrown at Fort Benning’s Soldier and Family Appreciation Day on Thursday.
“This is huge,” said Ferguson, a drill sergeant, as he enjoyed the festivities with his two children. “I just never expected all of this. It is certainly something that will raise the morale of everyone.”
The highlight was the first Doughboy Bowl, a football game played between Columbus State University’s club tackle football team and a squad consisting of members of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division — the “Hammer Brigade.”
About 6,000 fans filled Doughboy Stadium in the evening for the contest, which the soldiers won 29-13. Thousands more stayed outside to continue the celebration that began about three hours earlier. Two of the first three scores in the game were produced by the defense.
CSU President Tim Mescon was on the sideline as five members of Fort Benning’s Silver Wings parachuted onto the field during pre-game festivities.
“This is a fantastic reflection of the partnership between the Manuever Center of Excellence and Columbus State University,” he said.
He’d like to see the game become an annual event.
“Some have mentioned a Veterans Day contest,” Mescon said.
Enjoying the festivities was Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Spinks.
“This is really unbelievable,” he said. “This is a great gathering, something that is good for the Fort Benning community and the Columbus community.”
The scene was like many a college game, with people tailgating in the parking lot.
Close to the stadium, jugglers performed on stilts and musicians played on stage. Some people were dressed as Ninja Turtles.
There were more than 20 inflatable areas for children to jump in and slide down, and places to test football-throwing skills, get a crazy hairstyle, acquire a temporary tattoo or sit and have an artist draw a caricature.
The food was plentiful and free, and included barbecue, pizza, sausage, ice cream and cookies.
“It is a great day,” Spinks said. “I was afraid the weather was going to be bad but everything was perfect.”