After a year on hold, the Thunder Over Augusta Armed Forces tribute has returned in a new location, but with its mission intact.
Established in 2009 as a way to honor members, past and present, of the armed forces, the event traditionally took place along the banks of the Savannah River in downtown Augusta.
Last year’s event was cancelled when construction on the TEE Center precluded the use of Reynolds Street. This year it will take place from 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at Evans Towne Center Park. Admission is free.
Don MacNeil, one of the event organizers, said the availability of the new Columbia County venue made it possible to bring the event back.
“There was still an ongoing issue downtown,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “So if this was going to happen, we were going to have to find a new facility. We were lucky that this beautiful facility is available.”
Although this year’s event will be in Evans, MacNeil did not rule out moving it again.
“I think most of us, emotionally, would love to see it downtown again at some point,” he said. “I mean, I have no idea what will happen in the future, but we all want anything and everything to happen downtown. But for now, we’re in this grand space.”
MacNeil acknowledged that this year’s event will feature a higher-profile entertainment component. with music by Jo Dee Messina.
“We’re glad to be back,” he said. “We’re glad and we feel very lucky.”
EXHIBITS: Thunder Over Augusta has always served as a showcase for military skills and equipment. This year’s displays will include Black Hawk helicopters, an M2 Bradley and M109 Paladin tank, and the massive Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) vehicle. There will also be military working dog, combat and emergency response presentations.
TEAM FMX EAST: Owned and operated by freestyle motocross
riders Clint Esposito and Travis Willis, Team FMX is a travelling precision motocross show. The troupe and its riders have appeared at such high-profile events as the Harley Davidson 100th anniversary celebration, the ESPN X-Games and the Red Bull X-Fighters extreme sports series.
SKYDIVING DEMONSTRATION FEATURING DANA BOWMAN: After losing both his legs in an accident while training with the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, Dana Bowman became the first double amputee to re-enlist in the Army, becoming the team’s lead speaker and recruiting commander. Today, he uses skydiving as a platform to demonstrate that physically challenged people can excel.
434TH U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CORPS BAND: Stationed at Fort Gordon, this professional ensemble plays at concerts and events throughout the year. At Thunder Over Augusta, it will play during opening ceremonies and be joined by the Navy All-Volunteer Chorus.
JENNA JENTRY: Country singer Jenna Jentry began collaborating with producers and songwriters in the Dallas area while in school at Southern Methodist University. Her debut EP, Fashionably Late, was named a finalist in CMT’s NSAI Song Contest. She followed with the album Good as Gold and is touring and working with producer Mark Moffatt (Keith Urban, Gloriana and Jason Aldean).
JOANNA SMITH: A Georgia native, Joanna Smith grew up in the small town of Arlington listening to the classic country sounds of artists including the Judds, Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton. From an early age, she honed her performance skills, taking any opportunity available to hit the stage, eschewing a career with the all-girl group Mustang Sally and a scholarship to Auburn University to try out Nashville. After a little more than a year, she had landed her first publishing contract. Since then she has had one of her songs recorded by Billy Ray Cyrus and opened for Glen Campbell at Ryman Auditorium.
JO DEE MESSINA: Part of the popular pop-country crossover movement that came out of Nashville in the late 1990s, Jo Dee Messina scored a couple of hits (Heads Carolina, Tails California and You’re Not in Kansas Anymore) off her debut album. Over the past 15 years, Messina has had four albums on the Billboard Country charts (two at No. 1) and 12 singles on the Country Singles charts (six at No. 1).
PYROTECNICO FIREWORKS: Thunder Over Augusta ends with the fireworks display that has become its signature event. This year’s show will be a 30-minute low- and mid-level display set to music. Pyrotecnico, the company behind it, is known not only for setting patriotic events alight, but also for the occasional Super Bowl halftime show.