Fort Benning Independence Day celebration free, open to the public

By Bridgett Siter, Directorate of Family & Morale, Welfare and Recreation /

We never celebrate July 4th on the Fourth of July. We always host the annual Independence Celebration the last Saturday in June for a variety of reasons but mostly because we know it’s important for our Soldiers to travel over the holiday to be with Family and friends. They should never have to choose between our celebration and celebrating with the ones they love.

For the first time in history, this year’s Independence Celebration will be a two-day event at Fort Benning. It will start with a carnival on Gardner Field (adjacent to York Field) from 4 to 10 p.m. June 24 and continue from 3 to 10 p.m. June 25 with our traditional celebration on York Field, which includes tons of free activities and the greatest fireworks show in the Chattahoochee Valley.

As always, this event is free and open to the public. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. Guests can purchase $15 wristbands for unlimited carnival rides for one day or a $20 band for two days. There will be at least 20 rides for adults and children, including traditional favorites like the Himalaya, Flying Dutchman, Bumper Cars, giant slide, Scat, Tornado, Ring of Fire and more. Bands will be available on site and in advance, beginning June 8, on the second floor of the Benning Club weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Though the highlight of the Independence Celebration is always the finale, the largest, grandest fireworks show in the Chattahoochee Valley, you’ll also enjoy concerts, shows, games, rides and great food. We’ll have more of those crazy inflatable bounce houses than you can shake a stick at, and they’re free. Let the kids jump till they puke, then send them back for more.

And again, we’re giving away a free 2016 Kia Soul to one lucky active duty service member or the spouse of a service member on June 25. Register today at http://www.benningmwr.com/independence  celebration-2016/. The winner of the Kia will be announced from the Ranger Joe’s stage before our feature concert, so if the kids need to get to bed early, plan to stay until 7 p.m. at the very least.

Bluegrass/Country artists Ruthie Collins will headline the show on the Ranger Joe’s Stage following the MCoE Band, a demonstration by the Silver Wings and a “FRIES and SPIES” Ranger tactical operations demonstration. There will be an opportunity to jump from a 34-foot airborne training tower during this event. Please note: if the temperature rises above 95 degrees, we may have to cancel or temporarily halt this event.

As always, our food and beverage vendors only accept tokens, which are $1 each. You will be refunded for unused tokens, so load up early and save yourself a return trip to the token trailer. You can also purchase ahead of time, weekdays between 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Benning Club, and return unused tokens there afterward for a refund.

Saturday, Safety Cab will offer free rides home to Soldiers who enjoy adult beverages during the event. Call 706-326-3027.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I don’t understand why you don’t have this event on July 4th?
We get that a lot. Just as we wouldn’t think of hosting our Christmas activities on Christmas Day, we choose to host this event the weekend before the holiday, because most of our Soldiers and their families are given the opportunity to travel home for the holiday. We don’t think they should have to choose between this fabulous free event and their own family traditions. If this totally messes with your mind, you can still purchase sparklers at the PX.

I don’t have a military ID. Do I need a visitor’s pass?
You will need a visitor’s pass for the event. You will have to stop for a pass at the Visitor’s Center at the 185 gate, and everyone in your car 16 or older should be prepared to show an ID. The process at the Visitor’s Center should take about 15 minutes. For your convenience, you may pick up a visitor’s pass any day of the week before the event, starting June 20, at the Visitor’s Center at the 185 gate. Once you have a visitor’s pass, you will be able to enter through any gate to attend the event. Remember that all vehicles are subject to search. From the 185 gate, follow the signs straight onto Main Post and you’ll be directed to York Field.

Where do I park?
Parking will be available around McGinnis-Wickam Hall, at Smith Fitness Center and near the ranges along Dixie Road.

Can we bring coolers?
Certainly, but you may not bring alcohol. We will have a great variety of food and beverages available.

Can we bring pets?
No, unless you have a service animal (and the appropriate paperwork), please leave your adorable dog at home.

I thought this was a free event; what’s the deal with tokens?
For safety and convenience, our vendors only accept tokens for all food and beverages. (Admission is free, as well as the entertainment, children’s activities, fireworks and parking.) Tokens are $1 each, and you get a full refund for every token you do not use, unless you choose to save them for the next fabulous event. To avoid those long lines at the token trailer on York Field, get your tokens early, between 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays on the second floor of the Benning Club, Building 128, starting June 8. You can purchase tokens with cash, debit or credit cards. You will find an ATM on York Field during the event.

Where do I go to complain about the crowd of basic trainees?
Don’t. They are the reason Fort Benning exists; we are a training installation. Buy ‘em a funnel cake, wish them well and thank them for their willingness to serve.

Will there be shade?
Yes, we will erect a large tent with fans, but it’s typically crowded, so you may bring your own small canopy and erect it toward the back of York Field in the designated areas where it will not interfere with your neighbor’s view of the stage. Bring lawn chairs and blankets, too; make yourselves comfortable.

What if it rains?
Sadly, it happens. In that case, we will have the fireworks show only at dark on Sunday, June 26. There will be no rides or vendors. We will keep you informed on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/   BenningFMWRfans.

Can you list the carnival rides?
I can; I’m just that good: Flying Dutchman, Himalaya, Ring of Fire, Starship, Expo Wheel, Bumper Cars, Sizzler, Sea Ray, Surf Shack, something called a Scat, Tornado, Bear Affair, Dizzy Dragons, Speedway, Orient Express, Elephants & Dragons, Quad Runner, Tea Cups, my favorite, the Giant Slide and the Merry-Go-Round.

Who do we thank for making this awesome free event possible, because I know these free events are never free?
Here is a list of our sponsors right now, but we will update this list as more folks come on board. Be sure to high five them when you see them on the field. Sponsors include: Ranger Joe’s, Opelika FJDC, KIA, Greystone Properties, USAA, AFBN, BOINGO, Cougar Village, Whitewater Express, Opelika FCDJR and CB&T.

Do you have a tentative schedule of events?
Friday, June 24, from 4 to 10 p.m., we will host a carnival on Gardner Field, which is adjacent to York Field on Eckel Avenue. Then Saturday, June 25, from 3 to 10:30 p.m., on York Field (subject to change):
• 3-10 p.m. – Refreshments, children’s activities, carnival rides
• 3-6 p.m. – 34-foot jump towers
• 4:45-6:15 p.m. – MCoE Band
• 6:15-6:45 p.m. – Silver Wings (set change)
• 6:45-6:55 p.m. – FRIES and SPIES
• 6:55-8:55 p.m. – Concert by Ruthie Collins
• 9:15-10 p.m. – MCoE Band Concert
• 10-10:30 p.m. – Fireworks choreographed to MCoE Band music

UPDATE: Photos from the 2016 Independence Celebration can be found at Fortbenningphotos.com.

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