90th Indianapolis 500 Festivities Include Military Tributes
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 28, 2006 Today's opening ceremonies for the 90th Indianapolis 500 carried a special message for servicemembers and their families: America Supports You.
Indy 500 fans hold America Supports You cards to let servicemembers attending the race know that the country is behind them. Several thousand cards were available for fans to display at the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Troops were greeted with thunderous applause and cheering when they rode around the two-and-a-half mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway track as part of the speedway's Military Recognition March. Just before they reached the only bricks remaining of the original track, 6,000 fans flashed placards bearing the America Supports You logo.
The red heart and blue ribbon logo has become synonymous with the program's message of support for America's military men and women.
"It feels good to know that we've got people behind us," Army Spec. Robert Houston, with the 433rd Personnel Division here, said.
Also during the days events, five servicemembers representing each service performed the National Anthem, while a color guard presented the U.S. and Indiana flags. Later the color guard presented the colors as an Army bugler played "Taps."
Army Gen. Richard Cody, Army vice chief of staff, also addressed the crowd. "You look around to the left and right and in front of you, and you see over 300,000 great American fans getting ready to watch one of our greatest sports," Cody said. "That's the same number of soldiers we have deployed in 120 countries today defending you and I.
"Thank you for your support of all our servicemen and women," he added.
For some, that support comes from a realization of freedoms gained through the efforts of others.
"People take too much for granted the freedom we've got," Jeff Cooper, of Newark, Ohio, said. "We've got an awful lot of freedom here, we just don't realize it."
For others it's having a servicemember in the family. "My brother is in (the Marines), and it's pretty cool to have people around that you know that's going to protect your country," Derek Snell, 13, of Madison, Ind., said.
The speedway joined America Supports You, a Defense Department program, as a corporate team member just before the 2005 race. The program highlights grassroots and corporate support for servicemembers and their families.
Two other America Supports You team members were on hand for today's race. Checkers/Rally's restaurants have partnered with "Operation Gratitude" as a corporate sponsor. The restaurant chain is using their track-based stores to collect messages of support for the troops. The post cards are part of Operation Gratitude's Patriotic Drive, which will provide Fourth of July care packages for troops overseas.
Ryan Perry said he wrote a message on one of the postcards out of appreciation. "Everyone should show their appreciation because of the positive way they represent the country wherever they go," the Kalamazoo, Mich., added.
Collections of personal, entertainment, food items and notes of support began in 750 Checkers/Rally's stores across the country May 8 and will end June 14.
Operation Gratitude founder Carolyn Blashek said the organization expects to send about 40,000 to 50,000 packages as a result of its Patriotic Drive. The nonprofit has sent more than 125,000 packages since its creation in 2003.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also lending Operation Gratitude a helping hand by selling lapel pins and t-shirts bearing the organization's logo. Proceeds will help fund more care packages for troops serving overseas.