CHIÃVRES, Belgium – When the US Army garrison Benelux opened ChiÃ¨vres Air Base on September 25 to the outpost community for the first time in 25 years, the outpost community was in a hurry.
It is estimated that 15,000 Belgians, Americans and other allied partners attended the first ChiÃ¨vres Air Fest, where they boarded static planes, interacted with volunteers in period uniforms and historic vehicles, ate food from local vendors, listened to live music and watched fireworks.
It was the first time since 1996 that the air base had hosted a community event of this magnitude.
To accommodate a crowd of this size, garrison staff ensured that everyone entering their post had been vaccinated against COVID-19, had recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or had recently tested negative for COVID-19.
Colonel James Yastrzemsky, the garrison commander, greeted the assembled multitude.
“I remember the deep gratitude that our host nation shows for our American military who came before us and served and sacrificed themselves on this sacred ground that we serve every day,” he said. “You consider it a duty to remember, and we will be eternally grateful to you.”
Shortly after he finished speaking, Belgian paratroopers descended on the airfield from a bright blue sky.
Outside the open doors of hangars 1 and 2 of the aerodrome, planes, helicopters and their crews greeted visitors. The US Army, US Air Force, and Belgian, Romanian and Slovenian Air Forces brought their planes to the event. Pilots and crews showed visitors the cockpit and took tours of the larger planes. Personnel from the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, stationed at Katterbach Military Airfield in Ansbach, Germany, outfitted the children with helmets and a flight vest outside of their AH64 helicopter. A group of gliders from Zutendaal, Belgium, in the tri-border region, brought their glider with them. And an Airbus A400M, a turboprop military transport aircraft, landed and took off from the airfield.
Between Hangars 1 and 2, visitors were able to observe a variety of historic military vehicles up close. They also had the chance to chat with the volunteers who dressed in vintage uniforms and showed their vehicles.
Also between the sheds, families enjoyed carnival games including a high attacker, an ax throwing competition, lassoing and more.
The visual centerpiece inside Hangar 1 was an M3 Stuart light tank named “Fish n ‘Chips” behind which hung an American flag several meters wide and high.
The ChiÃ¨vres International Air Base Museum was present and exchanged with the guests, and the Belgian Air Component, which celebrated its 75th anniversary, was also present.
The Mons Memorial Museum, which showed its partially reconstructed documentary feature Resistantes, which told the story of Belgian resistance women during the Second World War, including that of LÃ©once Descamps, who reported the movement of German planes to ChiÃ¨vres in 1944 then that she was 16 years old. Descamps herself was present at the reception of distinguished visitors at Hangar 1.
While live music and a DJ played, families bought a variety of foods from vendors on the tarmac, picnicking on the lawn, and eating Greek, Texan, Mexican, and many other types of food.
As the sun set in the west, the carnival rides began.
In Hangar 2, tables were set, as well as a mechanical bull. But as the evening deepened, the concert stage lit up and Belgian-American singer and celebrity BJ Scott performed an ensemble of her rock and blues repertoire. Scott, in addition to being a famous singer and performer in Belgium, is also one of the coaches of The Voice Belgium, the French-speaking Belgian version of the television franchise The Voice. She is also a radio host on Classic 21 francophone.
After their set ended, the crowd left the hangars and watched a fireworks display to end the evening.