FALL RIVER, Mass. – Various elements of the Massachusetts National Guard assisted the Fall River Chamber of Commerce in providing wholesome entertainment for nearly 100,000 people at the Fall River Celebrate America Festival August 8 through 10, 2009.
“The National Guard is a very important component,” said Robert Mellion, chief executive officer of the Fall River Chamber of Commerce. “Not just for security, but also to help spotlight volunteerism and community involvement.”
The festival featured carnival rides, live bands, illusionists, dance troupes, an exotic animal display, obstacle courses for children, locally prepared foods and beverages, fireworks, and an amateur singing competition called Fall River Catches a Star.
Members of the 101st Field Artillery Battalion, 181st Engineer Battalion, and the 976th Military Police Battalion all volunteered to provide assistance to the city of Fall River in administering the annual event. Sgt. Gabriel Amaral of the Recruiting and Retention Command, Massachusetts Army National Guard described the Soldiers’ mission as providing security, helping the chamber of commerce and simply maintaining a presence. Recruiters were also on hand to discuss opportunities in the Massachusetts Army National Guard with eligible citizens.
Mellion was very pleased with the conduct of the Guard members at the festival. “We are very, very grateful that the Massachusetts National Guard has volunteered to participate in this festival. It’s been discussed repeatedly by our board how appreciative we are,” he said.
Dressed as a pirate and toting a live parrot, Rick Oliveros was the manager of the Kids World section of the festival for the second year in a row.
“The Massachusetts National Guard gives everyone the sense of a quiet, controlled, safe environment,” said Oliveros. “It’s really important to give parents that sense of security that comes from having the National Guard here.”
In addition to placating the fears of parents, the presence of the Massachusetts National Guard also convinced the Department of Homeland Security to allow the carnival section of the festival to extend onto an international shipping dock. According to Oliveros, that was a strict stipulation imposed by the Department of Homeland Security.
“We couldn’t put on the festival without the Massachusetts National Guard,” said Oliveros.
Organizers of the waterfront festival were not the only ones to welcome the Soldiers. Michael DeAlmeida was Fall River Catches a Star singing competition champion in 2006 and was asked to come back this year as the master of ceremonies. “It’s nice to put a face to the men and women serving our country,” he said.
The Massachusetts National Guard tent was overwhelmed with visitors who stopped briefly to extend their gratitude. One such visitor was from Mississippi and thanked them for the flood relief efforts the Massachusetts National Guard had provided to her after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.
Jason Rua, chairman of the Fall River Celebrate America Festival, estimated that as many as 50,000 people may have attended on Saturday night alone. A constant level of approximately 5,000 people was additionally maintained throughout the day.
Fall River Celebrates America is an annual event that takes place in mid-August.