Posted on Sat, Nov. 18, 2006
Blessings all year
Organizers broadening purpose to give soldiers
BY CHUCK WILLIAMS
Organizers of the God Bless Fort Benning rally at the Columbus Civic Center are steering the annual event in a new direction.
What started four years ago as a rally to support soldiers as protesters gathered in Columbus to demand the closing of Fort Benning's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas, is now an event that can back soldiers in a different way.
From contributions and proceeds from this year's rally, God Bless Fort Benning supporters are hoping to establish a fund that will help meet the needs of soldiers.
The event was founded in 2002 by Columbus physician Jack Tidwell and his wife, Eve. Today, the group that supports the rally has grown in numbers and scope.
"In the Tidwells' hearts, all soldiers have needs that need to be taken care of," said volunteer Jimmy Blanton. "There is a lot of pain and hurt. And we want to meet those needs any way we can."
God Bless Fort Benning, now a nonprofit organization, will accept grant requests from soldiers and family members with specific needs not being met by the military or other help organizations. They recently helped purchase a vehicle for a disabled soldier who lost his legs.
Organizers would not say how much money has been set aside for the fund. The application and grant process are still in developmental stages.
"We want to be able to say that this is the day that lasts all year long," said organizer Jan Pease.
Another change is the Tidwells' involvement. While the couple still contributes to the God Bless Fort Benning rally, they are less involved with the daily details.
"I don't think they have attended a meeting all year," Pease said.
The budget for this year's rally is $125,000. The sponsors include Tidwell Cancer Treatment Center, Columbus Bank & Trust Co., TSYS, Synovus, B&B Beverage, Bill Heard Chevrolet, BellSouth, TIC Federal Credit Union, St. Francis Hospital, T-Mobile, Precision Components International and several defense contractors such as Taser International, Bren-Tronics Inc., Omega Training Group and General Dynamics.
The event will be a family-festival that will offer live music and entertainment and speeches from politicians. It will go from noon to 6 p.m. There will be a large-screen television for the Alabama-Auburn football game, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m.
Last year, organizers said more than 25,000 people attended the event in the Civic Center parking lot. They are expecting a similar crowd this year.
"We have stressed this is non-political," said Kevin P. Loncher, one of the event's volunteer leaders. "This is not about the SOA. This is about the soldiers. We want to show we appreciate what they do and the sacrifices they make."
"This has nothing to do with the protest," Pease said.
Thousands of Fort Benning soldiers are expected to attend the rally, but Pease and others said they would welcome protesters to attend.
© 2006 Ledger-Enquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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