By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – The annual Salute to Our Heroes event is a family tradition for Spc. Kimela Cole and her family.
They have attended it since arriving at Fort Hood in 2004.
Cole is set to leave for Iraq for her third deployment in just a few months, so she takes advantage of events like Friday's salute to spend time and have some fun with her family.
Cole, her 15-year-old daughter, Robin, 9-year-old daughter, Kamela, and 1-year-old son, Robert Diggs Jr., sat on a blanket in the grass near Hood Stadium, feasting on submarine sandwiches, chips and drinks. On a nearby stage, Latin artist Jennifer Pe?a drew a large crowd of dancing, hand-waving, picture-snapping fans.
Cole is a cook in the 4th Infantry Division's Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment. The Louisiana native joined the Army in 2001 for a better life, she said. She and the kids were waiting for Cole's husband to get off work so he could join them at Fort Hood. The girls, who attend Shoemaker High School and Duncan Elementary School, were glad to get out of school early so they could have some fun.
Killeen and Copperas Cove independent school districts released students early to encourage participation since the post planned a special event on such a mass scale, said Bob Massey, the Killeen district's spokesman.
Robin was looking forward to visiting some of the carnival rides, but for a moment on Friday, she was all about the food. She liked spending a lot of time with her family, she said, while happily devouring a sandwich.
Events like the salute are very important to Cole because it is a way to spend time with her children before she deploys.
She also was impressed to see the amount of support the local communities showed at the event. That support came through donations of 50,000 meals that included pizza, chicken, ice cream, sloppy joes, chips, sandwiches; 30,240 bottles of water; and 72,000 sodas. Other companies and organizations handed out bags, pens, hats, CDs and a lot of other goodies.
Artists like Pe?a, Mark Chestnutt, Tantric, El Grupo Mania and II Face and local band, KriticKill, performed. Diana Falzone, Maxim model and radio host; Jack and Dawn Hammer, from Fox 107.3; Metal Sanaz, video jockey and MySpace star; and actor Lou Gossett Jr. made appearances.
Thirteen artists made appearances – all of them volunteering, said Monty Campbell, Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation spokesman.
About 80,000 people were expected to attend the event on Friday.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7547