News: Community Strong Day brings heroes, entertainment, gratitude
Story by Heather Graham
FORT HOOD, Texas - What do you get when you have six NASA astronauts, five Medal of Honor recipients, four musical performers, a three-star general, two midways and a sock puppet at the same place?
At Fort Hood, you get "Community Strong Day," a day that gave a much-needed laugh and good time for the greater Fort Hood community as they continue to heal from the events of Nov. 5.
When people asked III Corps and Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Bob Cone what Community Strong was all about, he knew what to say.
"We've learned since the events of the fifth of November that it takes an entire community to be strong," Cone said. "What we've seen is an outpouring of love and support across this great nation. This brings it all together. "
On Friday, the community, Soldiers and family members were treated to a full day of world-class entertainers, heroes and carnival rides at a price that cannot be beat.
The event was the culmination of five weeks of grief, the ongoing healing process and the recognition that the Fort Hood community shares a bond that cannot be broken.
"We've been working real hard [since Nov. 5] to put things back right," Cone said. "Part of today is a demonstration of how much the community really cares about the Soldiers and families at Fort Hood."
It was the best way to thank this community for their service and sacrifice, as well as give something back to the place that gives so much.
"This is America saying thank you for your service and your sacrifice," Sloan Gibson, United Service Organizations president, said. "It's America reaching out and expressing their gratitude.
For everyone there, it was a day to celebrate what it means to be an Army family.
Courtesy of the USO, rapper Chamillionaire, Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, Staind leader singer Aaron Lewis and the Zac Brown Band lit up the stage with their performances.
Nick Jonas did not perform, but still left teen and pre-teen girls in tears after meeting him.
Claire Amato, 11, was not in tears after she met Nick Jonas, but she seemed a little in awe.
A big Jonas Brothers fan, Claire said it was "really cool" that he took the time to come to Fort Hood.
Jonas echoed the sentiments of all the performers, saying he was honored to be at Fort Hood to thank the community.
For the more seasoned crowd, comedian Dana Carvey delivered laughs on and off stage.
Known for his work on "Saturday Night Live," "Wayne's World" and several movies, Carvey took the stage for some stand-up about current events, notably Tiger Woods' indiscretions.
Carvey came at the urging of long-time USO performer Gary Sinise, but was taken in by Fort Hood.
"It just feels like there's something in the air that you want to be a part of," Carvey said. "I'm in awe of them, the people who do this, who put themselves in harm's way."
Some of those at the event have been closer to the stars.
Six NASA astronauts dedicated and delivered a flag that was flown at the International Space Station to Fort Hood.
A classmate and friend of Cone's helped arrange for the flag, which was flown at III Corps Nov. 11, to travel aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis for their mission to the International Space Station, Nov. 16-27.
Six astronauts, half of whom were on that mission, brought the flag to Fort Hood.
For one, this was not his first trip to Fort Hood. Astronaut LT. Col. Shane Kimbrough, who was born at Carl R. Darnall Hospital, came with the NASA group to express his condolences about the incident and thank the troops.
Seven-time National Hot Rod Association world-champion driver Tony Schumacher presented his trophy for this year's championship to Fort Hood.
Army-sponsored hot rod champion Schumacher won the trophy Nov. 15 and announced the trophy was going to Fort Hood. He made good on that promise on Friday.
He came to present the trophy personally because he wanted to say thank you and help cheer the community.
"We all count on the Soldiers to give us the opportunity to do what we do," Schumacher said.
He also brought his car. Not one of his show cars, but the car that won the championship because the show cars are being re-painted.
The car was a hit for young and old alike, just like a little sockpuppet.
Mallory Lewis brought Lambchop to entertain the children and adults. Lewis revived Lambchop a few years after the passing of her mother, Shari Lewis, because she "didn't know what a childhood looked like without Lambchop."
She and the adorable sockpuppet who was dressed for the occasion in camouflage, sang songs and shared happiness with the young and not-so-young.
"Children just fall in love with her," Lewis said about the puppet.
And the Soldiers?
"The troops get these looks of childhood innocence and start singing, 'This is the song that doesn't end,'" she added. "It's just amazing to put a smile on the faces of this who risk everything."
The Soldiers weren't the only ones there who risk everything.
Five Vietnam-era Medal of Honor recipients came to thank the Soldiers and their families.
Big-name performers, national heroes, athletes and rocket scientists came to thank and lift the spirits of Fort Hood Soldiers, families and the members of the community.
"We are all so proud, so thankful for your service," Medal of Honor recipient retired Air Force Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness, who spent six and-a-half years in the "Hanoi Hilton," said. "These are tough times, especially tough times for the families. I have so much empathy."
The tough times seemed to be forgotten for just one day as the community enjoyed entertainment and presentations.
For just one day, Fort Hood was able to put aside the war and the events of Nov. 5 and laugh or sing or just enjoy time with family and friends.
For Cpl. Curt Templeton and his wife Natalie, the day was just another great day at the Great Place.
The couple and their two children got to Fort Hood Nov. 10, and they love their new home.
"We've seen good support," Curt said. "There are a lot of activities for Soldiers and their families here."
They said any worry they might have had about coming here following Nov. 5 was gone when they saw how tightly this community is bonded with Fort Hood.
"We've had nothing but a wonderful time since I got here," Curt said.
That is what Community Strong is all about.