FORT HOOD — As a result of sequestration, this year’s Fort Hood’s Independence Day Celebration was a shadow of its former self.
Previous years’ events, called Freedom Fest, brought around 100,000 visitors from across Texas to Fort Hood’s Sadowski Field, said Don Torres, chief operations director at Fort Hood’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
Thursday’s event brought an estimated 10,000 visitors, Torres said.
Although the Army didn’t book big name acts, such as last year’s headliner Kelly Clarkson, and no free carnival rides were offered, Fort Hood Stadium was bustling with life Thursday night.
“Even though we had to reduce the event, it looks like people are still coming out,” Torres said.
“People still like to celebrate the Fourth of July and we’re going to have a good time.”
Budget cuts also forced organizers to reduce the duration of the event from nine to four hours, Torres said.
The directive to curtail the festival was given just 30 days before the start of the event. Organizers take six months of planning for Freedom Fest, Torres said.
“If we would have had to do a full-blown event it would have been more difficult,” Torres said.
He said visitors were not too critical of Fort Hood because the budget cuts were being felt nationwide.
“I think the public understands why we did it, and in the end, they still had a place to enjoy the Fourth of July.”
Sergio Sanchez, 21, a private first class in 1st Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, said at least this year’s Independence Day celebration had its most essential ingredient: fireworks.
Thanks to Fort Hood recycling and contributions from other sponsors, the installation was allowed to keep its famous fireworks show, Torres said.
Sequestration cuts eliminated fireworks exhibitions on at least six military installations in the U.S.
Army wife Lindsey Clark, who has attended several of the previous Freedom Fest events, was disappointed in this year’s pared-down event.
“If you are going to cut budgets, you shouldn’t cut it from the American holiday,” Clark said. “A lot of people join the military because of the ideas of July Fourth.”
Fort Hood commander, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, issued a statement to the troops at Fort Hood from the International Security Assistance Force command post in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“Today there are many countries that yearn for the type of freedom that Americans enjoy on a daily basis and Afghanistan is one of those countries,” Milley said. “As our own country celebrates its liberty, we are proud to be helping the Afghanistan people defend their young democracy.”
More than 3,000 troops in eight different units from Fort Hood are currently serving in Afghanistan, he said.