By Airman 1st Class Allyson Manners, 171st Air Refueling Wing
/ Published November 17, 2014
Pittsburgh, Pa. -- November 8, 2014, the air was cold and cutting, typical for a November morning in Western Pennsylvania. At Point State Park, Pittsburgh, a slight breeze was blowing, waving the American Flag, red and white stripes standing out against the bright blue sky. It was a picture-perfect day! Bystanders lined the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, waiting for the parade to begin. Each seemed to hold a small flag or sign of thanks in their hands. The Pittsburgh Veterans Day Parade began, led by a police escort, with a joint Color Guard including 171st Base Honor Guard members and local units, each carrying their respective service flags or a guarding rifle proudly leading the way. Shouts of "thank you" and applause filled the air as troops marched by in formation, each proudly representing their branch of service and local military unit. Veterans stood to salute the flag they so proudly defended as it passed in front of them.
The parade came to a standstill as the National Anthem was played, a patriotic and traditional opener to an honorable day. Participants and parade-goers continued on into Point State Park, where the day's main event was about to begin.
The 171st Air Refueling Wing, joined by Point State Park, Association of the United States Army (AUSA), the Fort Pitt Museum and numerous other agencies, hosted Steel City Salutes the Troops, the region's first all-inclusive, interactive military and community outreach project. The military centered event was designed to celebrate the region's military history and relevance to the public. The event was designed to bring military members from past, present and future, citizens of the surrounding communities and military support agencies together. It was inspired by Philadelphia's event, Fox 29's Salute to Troops, also a Pennsylvania National Guard initiative.
"Western Pennsylvania has one of the largest military and veteran populations in this country," said *Major Karen Bogdan of the 171st ARW Public Affairs office, leader of the organization for the event. "Our military history is significant, rich and far-reaching."
"The Pennsylvania National Guard originated in 1747 when Benjamin Franklin established the Associators," Bogdan continued. "While we don't have the large and obvious Active Duty military installations here in our region, we do have a storied military history with units that are still very much a part of our national defense today."
"It goes without saying that events like this not only highlight the community support our service members show, but also the support this great community shows its military and veterans," she concluded.
Local units represented included PA National Guard's 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division and 171st Air Refueling Wing, the Army Reserve's 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, the local Marine Corps and Navy Recruiting Commands, the Air Force Reserve's 911th Airlift Wing and the Coast Guard's Pittsburgh Marine Safety Unit.
Scenic Point State Park, the historic location of Fort Pitt and now a state park owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), set the perfect setting for a military-community event. The 28th Infantry Division Band, another historical military icon in Pennsylvania, played military-style musical numbers, setting an upbeat and patriotic tone for the day.
Half of the park celebrated present and future military members. Recruiting stations from each branch of service were set up along the sidewalk entering the park, each hoping to attract potential new recruits. This side of the park was also host to exhibits by veteran-owned businesses and military and veteran support agencies. Attendees had ample opportunity to learn about products and services available to them in return for their years of service. Vendors that also volunteered for the event were adjacent to the recruiters, their warm food and drinks offering a bit of relief to attendees willing to brave the chilly weather.
On the other side of the park, the Great Lawn, Fort Pitt Museum had coordinated the participation of historic military re-enactors. Men and women dressed in military uniforms from various periods of history blended almost seamlessly with service members dressed in modern-day uniforms. Vehicles from WW II were grouped together, giving onlookers a first-hand look at equipment used in battles long-passed. Above the noise of the crowd, a slow melody could be heard crackling from one of the old radios.
Modern military vehicles were parked along the water's edge, allowing U.S. Coast Guard watercraft to be viewed near its natural element. U.S. Army soldiers donning battle gear looked on as children explored the military vehicles, their innocence and curiosity giving the machines a less aggressive look.
Tucked into a small section of woods, Civil War-style pup tents were sent up on display, sporting a field kitchen and other military gear for onlookers to view. Their owners were standing nearby, watching as American Revolution re-enactors gave demonstrations on cannon loading and weaponry used in times of war. The loud calls of the officer's orders, the cannon blasts and gunfire were icing on the cake for an all military-style day.
Major Bogdan publicly thanked the DCNR, AUSA, and other agencies that helped make the event possible.
"The sponsorship and support from the community has been overwhelming. Companies such as HEARCORP, the Fort Pitt Museum, RB VetCo, La Prima Espresso and CONSOL Energy, have all provided generous support," Bogdan added. "Additionally, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and Pirates are all supporting Steel City Salutes the Troops with displays and mascot appearances."
Major General Wesley Craig, The Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard and the parade's Grand Marshall, concluded the event with a mass enlistment, ensuring that the legacies and honor of those that came before will continue into future generations.
"This is an opportunity to recognize our future potential," began General Craig. "These young men and women you see before you have all made the commitment to serve in the armed forces, and each group I sled by a senior officer for their respective branch. What an honor this is!"
Senior officers from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and Pennsylvania Air National Guard stood next to their enlistees, each group formed up like troops going into battle. A few parents of the future service members looked on as their sons and daughters raised their right hand to take the Oath of Enlistment, entering into the elite group that may be the world's greatest military force.
As the event ended and members and attendees were dismissed, a feeling of anticipation hung in the air. Steel City Salutes the Troops was a success, fulfilling the action its title promises- a salute to troops, past present and future.
"To be able to bring all of these units, their members and equipment together in one setting is a success in and of itself," Bogdan said. "But to be able to do so at Point State Park and to place all that these organizations have to offer in support of our nation's defense on display for the public to see and learn about, is even more of an accomplishment."
"Steel City Salutes the Troops brought in more than 5,000 visitors to Point State Park. With this having been the first year for the event, this is a very encouraging number; one we hope will only grow in the years to come," she said with excitement in her voice, even after an exhausting day coordinating the event.
Steel City Salutes the Troops may be over, equipment and troops back in their battle-ready states, memorabilia packed away until the next military celebration, but we can look forward to this event in the coming years. As long as there are service members willing to sacrifice, a community willing to support them and as long as the American Flag still waves, there will be a reason to salute the troops.