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Families enjoy 3rd of July event at Fort Meade

Peter Lopez smiled at his daughter Isabella, who was trying not to fall over inside a camouflage-patterned inflatable playhouse in the heart of Fort Meade.

"All right, Isabella, try to keep your balance," he called out to his daughter, who was wearing a Cat in the Hat-themed shirt.

Over and over, he flung an inflatable ball at her until the 11-year-old finally fell over, dissolving in giggles.

Lopez, with daughters Isabella and Christiana, 10, was one of a few hundred people who came to the Red, White and Blue celebration on Wednesday at Fort Meade's Parade Field. The event featured a parade of Budweiser Clydesdale horses, fireworks and a barbecue cook-off competition.

Lopez, a civilian employee, said the event traditionally has been held on the Fourth of July and speculated that the date change and a notable increase in sponsors, such as Budweiser, was due to the series of federal cuts known as sequestration. Still, he said, the event was enjoyable, whatever the day.

"It's good that it's open to the community," he added.

Attendees bought crab cakes, pulled-pork barbecue, beer and frozen strawberry smoothies, and walked around castle- and pirate-themed inflatable houses and other activities for children. The event also featured a long stretch of cornhole boards and country music performers Jerrod Niemann, Brett Eldredge and Chelsea Bain.

Amanda Gartzke and Josh Whitaker drove a couple of hours from Carlisle, Pa. to see Jerrod Niemann.

"It was close, last minute — we thought it would be good," said Gartzke, as the two stood watching the games of cornhole and eating chicken wings before the country artist began. "Right now we're just watching what's going on around."

Brothers Randy and Jerry Whipple also traveled eight hours to Fort Meade from Erie, Mich. They were responsible for making sure a giant $6,000 balloon in the shape of a Kingsford grill — another promotional sponsor — stayed pinned to the ground and inflated.

"We just kind of hung around all day, helping out where we can," Randy Whipple said.

Betty Smith, who lives on Fort Meade and works as a National Security Agency employee, lounged in a camping chair while her 8-year-old daughter Zakaria lounged on a princess blanket at her feet, eating a grape-flavored cup of crushed ice.

"We're just enjoying the festivities," Smith said. "It's awesome to come out and relax and let the kids have fun. It's been a tradition since we came out here [four years ago]," she said.

Smith said the Fourth of July holds special importance for her family because her husband had been stationed in the East African country of Djibouti for a year and was scheduled to return at the end of the month.

"We're celebrating our heroes," she said.

cwells@baltsun.com

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