Thousands of Soldiers, Families and community members packed into Hood Stadium for the annual Fort Hood Independence Day Celebration July 4.

The event, celebrating the 243rd anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence, featured activities and entertainment for all ages. H-E-B held its signature cart races, where competitors race down the track with grocery carts to a table of groceries waiting to be bagged and carted back to the finish line. Children’s inflatables lined the other side of the track. Local food trucks offered treats for attendees. The night culminated in a dazzling 30-minute fireworks display.

Approximately 13,000 people attended this year’s celebration, according to Norma Hernandez, special events coordinator for Fort Hood Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

“It was great,” she said. “People were everywhere and we could see on their faces they were enjoying themselves.”

III Corps and Fort Hood Commander Lt. Gen. Pat White opened the event following the Salute to the Nation ceremony, honoring all 50 states.

“We’re going to celebrate 243 years of freedom,” the general said. “I want to point out that we’ve got about 18,000 Phantom Warriors from Fort Hood and the III Armored Corps deployed worldwide who cannot be here tonight with us ... I ask that you keep those Soldiers in your thoughts and prayers.”

A flyover featuring four AH-64 Apache helicopters from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade punctuated the Salute to the Nation ceremony.

The big draw of the day was the concert sponsored by the Air Force Reserve Tour for the Troops, featuring opener The Band Steele and headliner Andy Grammer.

The Band Steele, a country duo from Alabama, is no stranger to Fort Hood – they’ve performed at the Great Place before, at Samuel Adams Brewhouse earlier this year. The duo, Bo Steele and Ben Rubino, were thrilled to spend their Independence Day with thousands of Fort Hood Families.

“Without those guys, we don’t get to do what we love to do,” Steele said.

Throughout their career, the band has kept close ties honoring the United States armed forces.

“No matter what we’re doing, music or not, we would still want to support them, of course,” Rubino said. “It means a lot to us.”

The music video for the band’s hit single “Sit Awhile,” which touches on post traumatic stress and the unseen effects of service, has more than a million views on YouTube.

Steele said the song and its music video has made an impact, helping many service members they’ve met.

“We’ve always wanted to do that,” he said.

Spending Independence Day at the Great Place gives The Band Steele one more opportunity to make an impact on a Soldier’s life.

“Just playing ‘Sit Awhile’ on the Fourth of July, on Fort Hood, that’s going to be the most special, in front of all the Soldiers,” Rubino said.

Grammer, a multi-platinum selling pop artist, was also happy to spend his holiday with Fort Hood’s Soldiers and Families.

“No place I’d rather be on the Fourth of July than supporting troops that support me,” he said. “It’s an honor.”

The 1st Cavalry Division Band’s Lone Star Brass Band took the stage for a performance before the fireworks show at the end of the night.

This was the first major event held at the newly re-opened Hood Stadium, featuring its new artificial turf field and resurfaced track.

“Not only did the new field decrease the maintenance prior to the event, but we saw more people sitting on the field because they felt it was more comfortable as opposed to a grass and dirt field,” Hernandez said. “Plus, I think the III Corps caltrop (in the center of the field) looked pretty impressive.”