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America Supports You: Indy Race Fans Rally Support for Military

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

INDIANAPOLIS, May 30, 2005 – If there are two things that can be said about Indiana, it is that here in Hoosier country they love Indy racing and the military.

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Thousands of race fans hold up signs that read "America Supports You" as servicemembers parade by the grandstand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 29. 'Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
  

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When the Indianapolis 500 -- billed as the "Greatest Spectacle in Sports" -- came to town May 29, more than 300,000 here showed their affection for the troops.

As a flow of red convertibles and red, white and blue pickup trucks carrying Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom war veterans in parade fashion passed before the grand stand, followed by a mixed company of servicemembers from several Indiana National Guard units, a loud cheer erupted.

In a surprise to those in uniform, the huge crowd held up signs with words that said it all: "America Supports You."

America Supports You is a Defense Department campaign that recognizes community and individual support for the military.

"I can't tell you how important it is for the American people to say 'thank you' every now and then to the folks who work so hard to protect our freedom," said Air Force Gen. Gregory S. Martin, commander of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, ohio. "To see so many people come to their feet, it makes us leaders so proud of what they -- the young troops -- are doing in representing all of America, and for America to say 'thank you' is so heartwarming.

"So Indiana has very special place in my heart," he added. "This is the greatest state that we (the military) could ever ask for."

Army Spc. Jeremy Corne, 24, a National Guardsman from of Terre Haute, Ind., who was with the 3rd Infantry Division during the initial assault towards Baghdad, Iraq, said the show of support "lets me know that I'm serving a just cause."

"It makes me feel full of pride and respect for my country. This is very overwhelming; it gives me a good feeling," he said.

Said Jerry LaFountain of Canaan, Ind., who snuck into a "no access" area to get closer for a photo of his son, Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy LaFountain, of the Indiana National Guard color guard team, "Our kids are giving their lives to keep us safe, and we ought to do anything we can to help them, support them, and show them that we are proud of them."

The pre-race ceremony featured a quartet representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, which joined in singing the National Anthem as a color guard from the Indiana National Guard presented the colors. Overhead a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. appeared almost without notice.

There were more cheers for former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State retired Gen. Colin Powell. Powell told the race audience they owe their freedom to America's military.

"From Afghanistan to Iraq, at Camp Victory, Baghdad, and all around the world, these men and women are serving so that we can be free, so that the world with each passing day can be freer," he said, before asking the crowd to recognize the families of servicemembers who died for the cause of freedom in Iraq.

The audience replied with a standing ovation. It was a show of emotion that was felt deeply by families like that of Stephen Downing Sr. of Monrovia, Ind., whose son, Army Pfc. Stephen Paul Downing II, was killed in Ramadi, Iraq, Oct. 28, 2004.

Downing; his daughter, Danica; and his son's children, Hunter, 6, and Taylor, 9; and a niece, Chelsea, 11, were given special invitations for the race, as were several other injured servicemembers and families who lost loved ones in the war. The tickets were courtesy of the Hulman-George family, known here as the "first family of the Indy 500."

"I'm glad the country has started to recognize our soldiers, unlike when I was in Vietnam," Downing said. "It was a whole different story. Now its seems like the city, state and the Indianapolis speedway, they all recognize soldiers for what they are doing. It gives you a great feeling."

Added Danica, who lost her only sibling: "Everyone needs to stand up and recognize our soldiers and have something positive to say."

Which is what Air Force Col. Stewart Goodwin, assistant adjutant general for the Indiana Air National Guard, wishes had happened when he returned from Vietnam.

"You would have never seen this during the Vietnam War," Goodwin said of the goodwill towards the military shown today. "All you saw on the evening news was people protesting against the war. I wore the uniform back when people would spit on me as a lieutenant."

However, he added, programs like America Supports You are changing all that. He said the program is helping to let servicemembers know just how much they are appreciated. "Now you go to the grocery story and people are hugging you," he explained.

Others here like Steve Greenwalt, of nearby Lafayette, who brought along a photo of his son, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Alan Greenwalt, agrees. He said people today are more patriotic than ever.

"During the Vietnam War, the soldiers, sailors, Marines, they didn't get that much respect," he said. "But people are more patriotic now, and they support our troops to the fullest."

Still, today's salute during the 89th running of the Indy 500 is about more than America's support for the military, it is also about remembrance of those who gave their lives for freedom in past wars.

Leaning on a fence at the fabled brickyard, Army Maj. Gen. Marty Umbarger, adjutant general for the Indiana National Guard, stared out at the young men and women standing in formation on the track. He said this show of support by America meant "everything" to those in uniform.

"To know you're supported by the homeland, you just can't put a price on that," he said. "It's wonderful day to thank them for their service and their contribution. But one thing we should always remember, this is also about Memorial Day, and today is for those that have given their lives. We must never forget them."

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America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageIndiana National Guard Staff Sgt. Wayne Rawlings marches soldiers before the grand stand during pre-race ceremonies May 29 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe family of Army Pfc. Stephen Paul Downing II, who was killed in Ramadi, Iraq, Oct. 28, 2004, gathers before being seated. Pictured are Downing's children, Hunter, 6, and Taylor, 9; his niece, Chelsea, 11; Downing's sister, Danica; and his father, Stephen.. Several families who lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan were provided free tickets to the Indy 500, held May 29 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageServicemembers sing the National Anthem at the Indianapolis 500 May 29. Pictured (from left) are Army Staff Sgt. Mark Roberts, Air Force Senior Airman Justin Allen, Marine Staff Sgt. Remayl Shaffer-Harding and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Sharalee Wirt. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps Sgt. Nick Bennett, 35, of New Whiteland, Ind., and his father, Mike, came the Indy 500 May 30 as special guests. Bennett was severely injured during an attack on his unit in Iraq. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageOperations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans, many from the Indiana National Guard, take part in a parade saluting the military at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 29. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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