U.S. Army Reservist Spc. Blain Flowers took a deep swig of water from his bottle before addressing the newest visitors to his workplace. Flowers, a information systems analyst with the 324th Expeditionary Signal Battalion , was one of thirteen Soldiers given the honor of hosting everyday citizens at the Thunder Over Augusta celebration May 19 at Towne Center Park in Evans, Ga.
Established in 2008, Thunder Over Augusta is an event intended to celebrate the contributions of the American military. The Central Savannah River area event, which was spearheaded by the Augusta Warrior Project, provided th epublic static displays and live demonstrations from all branches of the military. Augmenting the military's presence were music artists, motorbike stuntmen, and a nighttime fireworks display.
The 324th ESB did their part by assembling a six-piece display: Two HMMVs (one with reinforced protective armor), a light medium tactical vehicle, two transportable satellite terminals and a deployable rapid assembly shelter. Flowers' goal was to explain how all of this high-dollar equipment helped Soldiers like himself achieve the biggest objective: establish reliable communication links for servicemen under hostile conditions.
"I explained our objective, how we proceed and the end result," said Flowers, a Savannah, Georgia native, who estimated he gave over a dozen information briefs throughout the day. "I also tried to make my job relatable by comparing what we do to a civilian (position), like a network operations manager for AT & T or Verizon."
Don McNeal, a spokesman for the organizers of Thunder Over Augusta, said local businessmen simply decided in a casual meeting that they wanted Augusta to showcase an open appreciation for the military.
"I've been told that there are over 60,000 veterans in the area and only a small percentage have been identified," said McNeal. "[The local businessmen] said, 'We love fireworks and we love the military so let's do it!'"
Visitors were allowed to enter the military vehicles on site so they could experience the feel of a tactical vehicle; Soldiers also described their basic military duties and everyday work experience. Sgt. 1st Class Roger Maphis, the noncommissioned officer in charge of battalion satellite communications, said the highlight of the event was the give and take his troops and the visitors provided one another.
"Our visitors get to see a variety of equipment they may never have known existed," said Maphis. "People with little military knowledge really haven't had an opportunity to talk with [servicemembers]. Being able to talk to Soldiers of different ranks and ages broadens their insight."
Maphis, an Evans native, said he and his fellow servicemembers benefited just from the conversations they shared with visitors. He said they got to hear from former Soldiers and what they went through. Maphis said many of them were amazed how the equipment has changed or been upgraded.
"I had a World War II veteran talk to me about the difference in the seats of a HMMV now compared to what he had to sit on when he served," said Maphis.
Flowers said he enjoyed talking with people about what he does, saying that he became more self-aware of his duties while explaining his unit's capabilities.
"The more I engaged visitors, the better I was able to describe my duties," Flowers said. "I don't normally like to talk but it was a challenge, and I like challenges."
Staff Sgt.Stan Buckalew organized the event for the 324th and said he approached the assignment like it was a real mission by executing precombat checks of equipment, completing a risk assessment of the route and a briefing the troops before the event began. He said the event allowed his Soldiers the unique opportunity to interact with Marines trained in the same field as well as veterans of signal units that operated with similar equipment.
"This event was neat because you normally cannot get this large of a group together," Buckalew said.
A number of observers were impressed by the elaborate setup but many simply were glad to exchange thoughts with a servicemember. Cheryl Lynn, a labor and delivery nurse at Georgia Health and Sciences University, brought her four-year old granddaughter Patti to visit troops. Lynn said it was a chance for Patti to learn patriotism.
"Freedom isn't free, and it's always good when folks are reminded there are people who sacrifice themselves for all of America," said Lynn, whose father and father-in-law each served over 20 years in the Army.