Nearly 20 years from the day Fort McClellan closed as a U.S. Army base, the Alabama Army National Guard opened its post Saturday to celebrate Armed Forces Day with visitors.
Lt. Col. Eric Shorter, who coordinated the event, said Armed Forces Day featured military vehicles, a combat simulator, live music, performances from local high school bands and more than 50 vendors.
“It’s certainly a wonderful opportunity for us to do something that benefits not only all of the branches of the military, but also the community,” Shorter said.
Because there are so many military retirees in Calhoun County, Shorter said, Armed Forces day means a lot to the community.
“People have woken up, day in and day out, and they’ve seen their mother or their father or their grandmother or their grandfather put on these uniforms, but they never really knew what they did,” Shorter said. “They get a sense of that people have done and are doing, and I think it gives the kids a sense of pride.”
Rick Sensenbach, who was a military police officer at Fort McClellan in the 1980s and remembers jumping out of helicopters at the base, said coming back on the 20th anniversary of the base’s closing made him feel nostalgic.
“It honors the veterans and I think it’s nice that the community gets to interact with the National Guard out here,” Sensenbach said. “It’s kind of a throwback to when the military was active out here and there was a lot of community involvement.”
Sensenbach said he also enjoyed seeing representatives from all military branches at the event.
“It’s nice to have this military representation here,” Sensenbach said. “This was a training site, not just for the Army. There were the Air Force and Marines. Other branches came out here and trained.”
Sensenbach’s 5-year-old grandson, Finn, said his favorite part of Armed Forces Day was playing on the inflatables. Finn said he also enjoyed exploring the helicopter and a jeep at the event.
Adina Peoples, who went with her father to Armed Forces Day as a child, said the event brought back memories for her as well. Peoples said the event has grown tremendously since then.
“They used to bring us here, now I’m seeing young people actually participating as vendors,” Peoples said.
Saturday, Peoples said, the event served as a way to promote the Dannon Project, which advocates for at-risk youth and non-violent inmates returning to society, as a vendor.
Lauren Stierman, who came to the event with her family, said they had initially planned on going to the zoo Saturday, but decided to go to Armed Forces Day after they were invited by friends and relatives who are veterans.
“There’s a lot of different stuff we haven’t looked at yet, and it looks like there’s quite a few things,” Stierman said.
Stierman, who is new to Anniston, said she and her family had been curious about Fort McClellan before coming to the event.
“Everyone’s been really friendly, so that’s nice,” Stierman said. We had never come out before, but it’s nice that they put this on for the public to see what’s going on.”
Shorter said nearly 3,000 people attended this year’s event, and commended everyone who helped him organize Armed Forces Day.
“There’s been a lot of work and energy and effort put into it on the planning part,” Shorter said. “We’ve got a lot of partners and I got a lot of support from the staff here and the local communities.”