COLUMBIA, SC — The annual Fourth of July celebration and fireworks show at Fort Jackson will go on this year despite federal budget cuts – just with a little less sizzle.
Missing from the this year’s festivities will be the popular “Torchlight Tattoo” – a cannon salute to the U.S. states and territories that includes narration from a stage with a giant video monitor, Fort Jackson officials said Wednesday.
“It’s obviously budget-related,” said Patrick Jones, Fort Jackson spokesman.
Military flyovers and public shows that contribute to the life of a community – such as Jammin July 4th at Sumter’s Shaw Air Force Base – have been canceled throughout South Carolina and elsewhere as sequestration has gone into effect this year.
Sequestration is the $85 billion across-the-board cuts to the U.S. budget that kicked in after Congress failed to reach a negotiated budget deal. Half of those cuts are to the military, which prompted events such as the Fort Jackson Fourth of July celebration to be scaled back or cancelled in order to prevent cuts elsewhere.
Fort Jackson will not use normally available public funds or civilian staffing for this year’s show, base officials said. Instead, the base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation group, a self-supported, military base support group is footing the full bill for this year’s Independence Day celebration, Jones said.
Figures were not immediately available for the cost of the annual Fort Jackson celebration or the fireworks show.
“Good for them. I’ve been there many times and I’ll be there this year,” said Larry Russell, Celebrate Freedom’s executive director in Columbia, applauding Fort Jackson’s decision not to cancel this year’s celebration.
“Especially nowadays, when there’s such gloom and doom with the government and the economy – if there’s one thing this country is known for it’s its patriotism. And the Fourth of July, of course, is the most patriotic day of the year. So to have that show canceled … would be another sad blow to the community,” Russell said.
Fort Jackson was fortunate that its support group – which is in place to support soldiers and their families and normally supplements public spending for the annual July 4th show – was able to pick up this year’s entire tab.
Some communities have not been so lucky.
Faced with furloughs and fewer dollars all around, military bases across the country, from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island to the Air Force Academy in Colorado have squashed their annual Fourth of July celebrations in a bid to save money.
Parris Island officials said canceling the July 4th celebration, though of high importance to the community and military families, would “minimize the fiscal impact on vital programs affected by sequestration.”
Instead, the Parris Island Marine Band will perform at the Sands Beach in Port Royal at 7:30 p.m. July 4, and the town will have a fireworks display at 9 p.m. or so, base officials said.
Like in many military communities, the Fourth of July celebration and fireworks display at Fort Jackson is a holiday fixture.
Over the years, thousands have been drawn to the base to cap off the holiday with patriotic music, food and drink, and a rousing fireworks show.
In 2002, 10 months after the 9/11 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, more than 20,000 people gathered at Fort Jackson for the nation’s 226th Independence Day celebration.
Despite the cutbacks, this year’s festivities celebrating America’s independence, which get underway at 4 p.m. July 4 at Hilton Field, should still pack a punch, Jones said.
“A lot of it (this year’s changes) will be transparent (to the public).”
The 282nd Army Band will play as usual for this year’s ceremony and a display by soldiers in period uniforms will precede the 20- to 30-minute finale fireworks display, expected to happen around 9 p.m.
Concession stands for food and drink will be available at Hilton Field starting at 4 p.m., officials said. Bleacher and main grandstand seating will be available and visitors can bring lawn chairs and blankets to use on the field.
The softball complex will be open to families with small children and feature games, crafts and carnival-type rides.
“We’re dealing with less money,” Jones said. “We’ve cut back on the areas we can, to basically reduce the expense.”
“When most people think about the things we do, they think about tax dollars. This is not being funded with tax dollars.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Fort Jackson July 4th Celebration
WHERE: Hilton Field, Fort Jackson Army Base
WHEN: 4 p.m. July 4, food and concessions open; 9 p.m., fireworks start
ACCESS: Access the installation through Gate 2 at Forest Drive and Strom Thurmond Boulevard; Gate 4 at Percival and Boyden Arbor roads; or Gate 5 on Leesburg Road
INFO: fortjacksonmwr.com or (803) 751-4865
Federal budget cuts have caused the military to cut back on public shows in South Carolina and elsewhere that contribute to the life of the community. Among them:
Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter canceled its Jammin’ July 4th event normally held at Dillon Park each year.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds canceled appearances this month in Myrtle Beach and at an air show at Joint Base Charleston.
The Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island canceled a July 4th event and instead will have its band perform in Port Royal on the holiday, followed by a town fireworks display.
SOURCES: Staff and wire reports