Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The gates to San Antonio’s oldest, storied military installation, closed to the public since terrorist attacks on 9/11, are open Saturday and Sunday – the longest stretch since that fateful day.
Fort Sam Houston officials are putting out the welcome mat and inviting the public for a showcase of the city’s tradition of military service during its Tricentennial Commemorative Week.
The two-day event, offering music, food, and activities, is the finale to hundreds of such celebrations during the first week of May that are commemorating Military City USA’s 300th birthday.
“September 11 changed everything 17 years ago,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Dean Welch of U.S. Army North Public Affairs. “It used to be … like many places, the gates were open, and people could come on and drive through the installation. But when terrorist attacks took place in 2001, we had to shut it down for the safety of our people and equipment, and we’ve not gotten to a point where we can open completely.”
That move effectively separated the city and adjacent neighborhoods, at least physically, from the active Army post near Center City that was established here in 1845 and designated Fort Sam Houston in 1890.
A National Historic Landmark, Fort Sam is home to the largest collection of historic buildings within the Department of Defense, including the Quadrangle and Pershing House, and is today considered the worldwide “Home of Military Medicine.”
In addition to the open public access, the Tricentennial Military Appreciation Event is also noteworthy in that a military demonstration event of this magnitude outside of the nation’s capital is rare, Welch said.
Unlike air shows, he said, “here you will have the availability at the end of the ceremony to see the Marine Corps drill team [up close], the horses, and see different parts of the military and ask about their lives. And, for us, it’s a chance to get to know our partners in the community.”
The weekend’s activities at Fort Sam will feature demonstrations and tours of active duty military and past and current missions of Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA), which includes the event host Fort Sam Houston, plus Lackland and Randolph Air Force bases, and Camp Bullis.
Those installations hold a significant place in San Antonio’s story, past and present. Every Air Force enlisted member who enters the service goes through basic military training at Lackland, and every Air Force flight instructor receives training at Randolph, the “Showplace of the Air Force.” Army and Air Force medics train at Camp Bullis, and more than 10,000 Navy sailors a year start their careers or train at JBSA.
“The military has long been the mainstay of our city’s economy with bases employing and training thousands of uniformed personnel and civilian workers,” said former Mayor Phil Hardberger at Thursday night’s Founders’ Gala celebrating the city’s Tricentennial. “These institutions provide solid, well-paying jobs and became the entry for many families to economic security in the middle class. Today, JBSA … continues the proud and important traditions of our city’s connection with the military that reinforces our values, freedom, service, integrity, and a strong work ethic.”
The event at Fort Sam opens Saturday morning with a 5K race and will end Sunday with a live concert by country music star Aaron Watson. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, U.S. Army North commander and senior commander of Fort Sam and Camp Bullis, will host the retreat ceremony before a fireworks show that concludes the weekend event.
For a detailed schedule of events, click here.
Although no military identification card will be required to access Fort Sam Houston, visitors should bring one form of a government-issued form of identification, such as a valid driver’s license.
Access will be permitted at the gate nearest Harry Wurzbach and Winfield Scott roads, with parking just inside the gates.
These items are prohibited at the base: backpacks, ice chests, alcoholic beverages, glass bottles, large bags, skates, skateboards, rollerblades, bicycles, scooters, Segways, hoverboards, remote control devices (drones, cars, etc.), pets (excluding certified service dogs), fireworks, flammable liquids, laser pointers, tents, portable awnings, and outside food or beverages.