Feeling the crunch of budget cuts, this year’s Independence Day celebration at Fort Hood drew far fewer crowds than years past.
The annual event — formerly 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 Family and 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 Kelley Clarkson, and no free carnival rides were offered, 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 about 30 days ago. 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.
Torres 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.”
Pfc. Sergio Sanchez, 21, with 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 spouse Lindsey Clark, who 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 4.”
Under normal circumstances, Fort Hood holds a raffle between family readiness groups for concessions.
“Because not many (commercial) vendors came as in previous years, they really opened this up to the family readiness groups to come out and support the soldiers,” said Grant Bramlett, of the 13th Sustainment Command family readiness group.
Sales revenue from the event will go to purchase items for soldiers and their families during deployment, such as clean sheets, birthday presents and essential family items, Bramlett said.
Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, Fort Hood and III Corps commander, 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 units from Fort Hood are currently serving in Afghanistan, he said.