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Celebrate July 4th Liberty-style
Stewart event draws crowd, honors families
Darius Rucker 011
A crowd sets up chairs and blankets for Friday's Darius Rucker concert on Fort Stewart. - photo by Denise Etheridge

Musicians support military, families 

Darius Rucker, well known as the lead singer for Hootie & the Blowfish, is a rising star on the country music scene with three hit singles from his first album, "Learn to Live."

Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, Dawn Robinson and Maxine Jones, the original members of En Vogue now reunited, were nominated for seven Grammy awards and are one of the most successful groups of the 1990s.

What these musical artists all seem to have in common is a respect and appreciation for men and women in uniform. Rucker and En Vogue performed for Fort Stewart soldiers and their families, and the surrounding community, Friday during the installation’s Fourth of July celebration.

Rucker said it was a privilege to perform for the military on his July 4th weekend.

"The reason our country is so great is because of the sacrifices these soldiers make," he said.

Rucker said he has received e-mails from soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, telling him his music reminds them of home.

"I try to write songs that mean something to people," he said.

Rucker said like many other Americans he had family members who served in the military.

"You play these shows because you can," he said. "Shows like this are the best way to say thank you."

Rucker said he turned to country music because he wanted to take a break from the type of music he had been playing. He said his records reflect whatever music he "feels like doing."

The ladies of En Vogue warmed up the crowd for Rucker Friday evening, performing their past hits and a medley of "Old School" R&B and pop from such legends as Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Patti Labelle, The Emotions and Donna Summer.

"These women inspired us," Herron said.

The quartet plans to return to the studio soon to produce a new album and is busy writing some new songs. They also are on the road playing spot dates around the country and abroad. En Vogue has a show scheduled later this year in London, England.

En Vogue members Jones and Robinson left the group, to return in 2003 and 2008, respectively.

"It was like I never left," Robinson said. "It’s always like family; just like sisters."

The singers said the music industry has changed over the past 20 years, and commented musical artists are "more accessible" to their fans today largely due to the Internet.

"There are so many different ways you can go now (to break into the industry)," Herron said. "The Internet is a great place to get your product up, to promote and advertise."

Herron advises budding musical artists to "be true to yourself and your art."

Although this is En Vogue’s first show for a military audience this year, they expressed concern for the spouses and children of soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It has to be hard for them to leave their families," Robinson said.

"We just want to show our appreciation," Ellis said.

Jones said her father served in the Korean War and her brother was a Marine. Robinson said her father is a Navy veteran.

The ladies said they had discussed doing a show for the troops in Iraq, but when violence erupted they cancelled their plans.

Despite performing outdoors in South Georgia’s hot and humid climate, the California natives seemed pleased by the welcome they received.

"To the soldiers and families here I would like to say ‘Thank you.’ Your sacrifice is huge," Robinson said.



Soldiers’ families were the focus of this past weekend’s "Worth Fighting For" Independence Day celebration at Fort Stewart. Even with three of four 3rd Infantry Division brigades deployed, the event Friday was well attended and much appreciated by soldiers and their families.

Grandfather Roger Facey of Greenwood, S.C., brought his two-year old twin granddaughters to the celebration. Facey said the girls’ father, Spc. Ross Richard, will be deploying next week with the 4th Brigade.

"So we brought the girls down as a going-away
for him," Facey said.

Anissa O’Hanley said the Fourth of July event would make memories for her and her family. O’Hanley’s husband, also with the 4th Brigade, deploys Tuesday to Iraq.

"As long as I don’t actually hear the phrase ‘he’s leaving Tuesday’ I won’t cry," she said.

"Every year just gets better and better," Ellie Delaney said of the annual event. "I took the day off work just to bring the kids down here."

Delaney’s husband, Sgt. 1st Class Rob Delaney, is with the 385th Military Police Battalion. She said she’s lucky to have her husband home this year.

"Last year we had to come without him," Delaney said.

Carnival rides, games, a juggler, dog tricks, crafts and an exotic animal petting zoo mesmerized tots and teens, parents and grandparents alike. The Hinesville Military Affairs Committee, with their own army of volunteers, served thousands of free meals to military families.

Around 5 p.m. Friday evening the installation opened its gates to the coastal Georgia community for a free concert featuring the female R&B quartet En Vogue and rising country singer Darius Rucker. Fireworks lit up the sky following the stage performances on Donovan Field.

Family, Morale, Welfare & Recreation Director Linda Heifferon said the Independence Day celebration at Fort Stewart has expanded in the last five or six years. In past years the celebration was either a simple carnival or concert, she said.

"They’ve really made this the event you see now," Heifferon said. "Something like this brings the community together."

She said the event, which rose from the Army Family Covenant, is a collaborative effort between FMWR, the garrison, HMAC and the civilian community.

Heifferon said 775 FMWR staffers gladly worked the celebration.

"They make it happen," she said. "They’ve been working all day. They do it because they care about soldiers and their families."

FMWR staffer Rebecca Towle said many military families are "far from home" and the Fourth of July celebration helps ease their homesickness.

"I’ve been at six other installations and this is the first one where they give away free food," Towle said.

According to 3rd ID Deputy Commander General-Rear Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, about 9,000 free meals had been served by 2 p.m. on Friday.

"I’ve never seen this kind of generosity and support from a community," Phillips said.

FMWR staffer Mimi Johnson is an Army veteran who was stationed at Fort Stewart. Johnson said working the event gave her a different perspective of the celebration.

"It’s neat to be on the other side," Johnson said.

"I think it’s really good for the families," said Kim Whyte, with FMWR. Whyte, an Army spouse, said the Army provides more support for soldiers’ families today. Whyte’s husband, 1st Lt. Carl Whyte, is preparing to leave on his second deployment. His first deployment was to Afghanistan in 2004, Whyte said.

"It was early in the conflict. Nothing had gotten off the ground for families yet. All they knew is that they got called and they went," she said.

Whyte said today there are many services offered to military spouses to help them and their children weather the stress of deployments. Unfortunately, she said not enough of them are taking advantage of what is offered.


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