Before residents and visitors heard the thunder of fireworks beneath the rockets’ red glare at Fort Meade’s Red, White and Blue Celebration, they heard the whine of portable generators powering kid-friendly amusements under skies that never followed through on their threat of thunderstorms.
Scores of youngsters queued up on McGlachlin Parade Field to tackle a moon bounce and other inflated environments as well as a rock wall, mechanical bull and Extreme Bungee Jumper, while others threw footballs and flying discs.
The six-hour event also featured food and novelty vendors, informational kiosks, and performances by acoustic guitarist Jared Mahone and the rock and pop band Til September.
A 30-minute fireworks extravaganza, fired from Constitution Park, topped the early Independence Day celebration.
“This is one of the best weekends all year round,” Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley said. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate our nation’s independence at Fort Meade, and we do it on the last day of the week so everyone can be here for the fireworks.”
Foley and Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodwell L. Forbes arrived on the parade field in a golf cart just before “Retreat” at 5 p.m
Forbes said the event is an opportunity to celebrate the freedoms and liberties that cannot be taken for granted while bringing the community together.
“It’s another way for us to get to know the folks in our community,” he said.
When early weather forecasts included rain and possible thunderstorms, Master Sgt. Frank Seitz of the Maryland National Guard and his wife, Lisa, came prepared.
“We had our umbrellas,” said Lisa Seitz, who was sitting in a lawn chair after a brief shower.
Seitz and her family have attended the annual event for 16 straight years.
“We love it,” she said. “It’s my birthday weekend — July 3. They always do a great, long presentation here. There’s music in the background, the kids are on the rides. They can’t contain themselves they’re so excited. You know it’s going to be a fun and safe evening.”
Pfc. Kevin Caballero of the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade stood in line with his wife, Mabel, and their 3-year-old son Angel for the Extreme Bungee Jumper.
“It’s nice to see the community coming together and have a nice time,” Caballero said. “The rain won’t stop us from celebrating the birthday of this country.”
Informational booths were manned by representatives of Leisure Travel Services, Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center, USAA, West County Chamber of Commerce and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers.
Arlene Ledoux, a nurse in the preventive medicine division at Kimbrough, distributed information packets about the Zika virus.
“We just want to educate the community about the Zika virus and what we can do to protect ourselves,” Ledoux said.
Sgt. Thomas Girouard of the 781st MI Battalion picked up a packet for his wife, Evelyn, and 2-year-old daughter Adriana.
“I always want to make sure for my daughter that I know everything that’s out there,” he said.
Girouard said he planned on enjoying the festive event.
“Just to have a good time with the family and enjoy the fireworks,” he said.
Along Cooper Avenue, food choices ranged from standard Fourth-of-July fare such as hot dogs and barbecued pork to international offerings including teriyaki chicken, gyros and falafel. There was lemonade to wash it down, and grown-ups could enjoy a cold beer.
Sgt. 1st Class Natasha Roberson-Curry of the 200th Military Police Command, who resides in Meuse Forest with her teenage children, said it was her first time at the event.
“It’s pretty good,” Roberson-Curry said as she gave her children money to buy funnel cake. “It’s very important to have something like this. A lot of Soldiers who live here may not be able to get out to Washington, D.C., or Baltimore to see the fireworks.”
Sgt. LaKeisha Broomfield of the 704th MI waited in line for Thai food with her 11-year-old niece and 10-year-old nephew.
“This [event] is just to give the kids something to do — get some fresh air and have some fun,” she said. “I really want to see the fireworks.”
Crystal Hogue’s two sons, Tristan, 8, and Taylor, 4, polished off some funnel cake and cotton candy, respectively.
“Lots of sugar,” Hogue’s friend Brian Bedford said, grinning, “It’s going to be a long night.”
“It’s great for the kids,” said Hogue, who used to work in telecommunications at Fort Meade and was staying with friends here for the weekend. “They can run around. And the fireworks are pretty [great].”
Jose Jaquez, an IT analyst with the Defense Information Security Agency, came with his wife, Ivea, and their 7-year-old children Jasmine and Skyla, and 9-year-old Justin.
The youngsters, who decorated their hair with red, white and blue hair spray, climbed the 30-foot rock wall.
“It was actually pretty fun,” Jasmine said. “And climbing the rocks, you just go step by step and you can’t look down.”
“It was high. I faced my fears,” Justin said. “It was scary, but it was good. It felt like I was on a real mountain.”
Jaquez said he and his family would never miss Fort Meade’s grand celebration.
“To celebrate the birth and beginning of this nation, I want to show my kids the meaning of freedom,” he said. “We came out to have a good time, and they always give a good fireworks presentation.”
Air Force buddies Staff Sgt. Damien Jones and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Marshall and Air Guard Master Sgt. Kerry Guy brought their families to the event, where their children enjoyed the rides, especially “anything that bounces,” Jones said.
“It’s a safe, family environment,” said DoD employee Charlie Corliss as his wife, Jess, and 2-year-old son Sam danced to the classic rock sounds of Til September.
The Corlisses had moved to Fort Meade from Hawaii just two weeks before.
“We’re still eating dinner off an ironing board,” Charlie Corliss said, so the family welcomed the opportunity for some outdoor fun.
Corliss said he heard about the celebration when he “asked around” about things to do in the area.
“It did not disappoint,” he said, smiling.
Two hours into the event, retired Master Sgt. Michael Boyd, owner of Better Than Carolina BBQ, grilled baby back ribs.
“We’ve been coming here for four years,” said Boyd, who served in the Army for 20 years. “Once you’re in the military, you’re always serving. That’s why we keep coming back. There are great people here.”
Doug Miller contributed to this article.