Bright bursts of red, white and blue fireworks lit the cloudy skies over Fort Stewart’s Cottrell Field Thursday at the Salute to the Nation Independence Day celebration.
Crowds gathered to watch the traditional fireworks display as well as Fort Stewart’s cannon salute to the nation. Cannons fired 58 times, once for each state and territory. Flags of the nation’s 50 states and her eight territories were displayed on the field next to the 3rd Infantry Division band, which played patriotic songs throughout the night.
“The ceremony gives us a chance to pause and reflect on our 237 years as a nation,” said Col. Kevin F. Gregory, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander. “We can stop and think about what that means to be an American.”
A brief history was read during the ceremony, recapping the United States’ involvement in global conflicts to preserve the nation’s freedom.
From World War I to Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, soldiers of the 3rd ID have fought to keep the American dream alive.
The narrator explained that the then newly-activated 3rd ID stopped the final German offensive along the Marne River in France during World War I. These actions earned the division the Rock of the Marne nickname, which is still used.
The division also fought the Axis powers throughout Europe in World War II, and fought in the Korean, Vietnam and Dessert Storm conflicts. In 2003, soldiers of the Marne Division lead the way as Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown in three weeks.
“Today reminds us of that an all-volunteer force has kept us free for the last 42 years,” Gregory said. “All those guys are over there defending our freedom today, and we thank them and their families for their sacrifices every day.”
Many Fort Stewart soldiers are still fighting overseas, but by 2014, all soldiers will return home from Afghanistan, Gregory said.
“We will have all of our soldiers back by next July 4,” he said. “We are really proud of them, and we want to get them all home as soon as possible.”
Many soldiers returned home just in time to celebrate the holiday with their families. Spc. Shane Guittap, of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, returned in May from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, and attended the festivities with his wife, Jessica.
“This event gives us an opportunity to celebrate our patriotism,” Guittap said. “It reminds us of what we fight for every day and what it really means to be a soldier.”
Guittap has been in the Army for about three years, and served in Afghanistan as a cavalry scout.
“This event is a reminder of the hard work my husband did so we can be free,” Jessica Guittap said. “I am so happy that my soldier is back here safe with me, and we can spend this important holiday together.”
The Guittaps joined crowds celebrating the holiday even though this year’s ceremony was abbreviated because sequestration.
“The sequestration hit us hard,” Gregory said. “But we were still able to provide the Salute to the Nation ceremony and fireworks.”
Usually Fort Stewart offers a concert along with the Salute to the Nation ceremony and fireworks show. The 2013 budget cut limits concerts like this.
“Next year, we hope to bring a concert back,” Gregory said.