A member of the Army Fife & Drum Corps (right) marches off the parade field.
A member of the Army Fife & Drum Corps (right) marches off the parade field. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

Hundreds of people sat in the reviewing stands and bleachers on MacArthur Field at Fort Sam Houston Saturday afternoon to watch the military’s finest demonstrate discipline, precision, and esprit de corps.

The military appreciation event, on the sixth day of Commemorative Week celebrating San Antonio’s 300th birthday, showcased the military missions of Joint Base San Antonio, which includes Fort Sam, Lackland and Randolph Air Force bases, and Camp Bullis.

Founders’ Day at Fort Sam was the first Commemorative Week event Paul Sandoval of Poteet has attended. The former Kelly Air Force Base civil service worker chose the event because he enjoys watching military drills. A friend told him about the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team, and after watching their performances on YouTube, he decided to come.

As The Marching Twenty-Four entered the parade field, with their hand-polished M1 Garand rifles and fixed bayonets, shouts of the Marine Corps’ battle cry “oorah” came out of the crowd. They watched as the team noiselessly performed their complex drills without command or musical cues.

Marine Corporal Ryan Watkins, 23, of Grand Junction, Colo., is in his third year of serving with the 24-member rifle platoon. The training is rigorous, but the chance to perform with the team is a rare opportunity, he said. “Of the 187,000 Marines, only 100 get the chance to try out.”

The precision drills he performs, like other military units, are about showing what the Marines are as a whole. “All the professionalism, the discipline, all the hard work, we are showing that,” Watkins said. “We are channeling it to the public through our version, which is drill. So it’s essentially a representation of the past and future marine.”

Other demonstrations, each representing a branch of service, included a Navy working dog demonstration and Corpsman demonstration performance and the Army’s Fife & Drum Corps, 12 red-coated soldiers performing mournful tunes, patriotic battle marches, and compositions celebrating a soldier’s return.

In addition, the 1st Cavalry Division’s Re-Enactment Group from Fort Hood charged in on horseback, and the Black Daggers Parachute Demonstration Team, who are the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Team from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, dropped from the sky.

Active duty service members, their families, and veterans attended the event, but the post was also open to the general public for the weekend – the first time since 9/11 Fort Sam has been accessible to the public for that length of time.

“Even though it’s just one gate open, that is a tremendous show of good faith,” said Karen Rolirad, deputy director of the City of San Antonio’s office of military and veteran affairs, an Air Force veteran herself who has served as the Tricentennial lead for all military events in the city this year.

“Having the ability to have even one access point doesn’t happen every day. And the reason why it’s open today is because of the good partnership between the city and the military.”

For Sunday’s schedule of events, which includes demonstrations, a concert and fireworks display, click here. No military identification card is required to access the post at the Harry Wurzbach and Winfield Scott Road gate. But visitors should bring one form of a government-issued form of identification, such as a valid driver’s license.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.