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HANAU, Germany — On the surface, it’ll seem like any other Fourth of July for U.S. troops and civilians living in Europe.

More than two dozen communities in at least seven countries will be host to a variety of Independence Day activities over the weekend, celebrations that will include the regular fare of food, games, music and fireworks.

With the holiday falling on a weekend, a number of military bases opted to stretch their events beyond one day.

But with life in Iraq still at the boiling point and 130,000 U.S. troops in the thick of it, including the 1st Infantry Division, many people will celebrate and reflect at the same time.

“Freedom will definitely have a different meaning this year — definitely,” Army 1st Sgt. Rhonda Thomas-Evans said Saturday, shortly after completing a 5-kilometer run at Fliegerhorst Casern near Hanau.

The recreational activities this weekend range from a boxing invitational in Hanau, to a bowling tournament in Schinnen, Netherlands, to a softball game at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

In addition, many communities hosted “fun runs” on Saturday.

For instance, Thomas-Evans, of the 39th Finance Battalion, was one of 40 runners who turned out for Hanau’s footrace.

One of the most unusual events occurred Saturday in Wiesbaden, home of the 1st Armored Division, which is in the process of returning from Iraq.

The annual Patriotic Paws and Pals 5K Fun Run/Walk didn’t draw as many humans and hounds as last year, but that didn’t matter to a 2-year-old cocker spaniel named Georgia, who took first place in the four-legged category.

“She just loves to run,” Julie Caldwell, 13, said of her dog after the race.

Across the European theater, the common denominators will be food, drinks and entertainment, whether it’s games for the children or music for the adults.

The celebrations range from small gatherings, such as the one planned for the NATO air base in Geilenkirchen, Germany, to huge festive events like the 48th annual BASH down the road at Spangdahlem Air Base.

By nightfall Sunday, if a person is in a plane flying overhead, especially in central Germany, he will most certainly see bouquets of fireworks dotting the darkened horizon.

“I think communities will go way out of their way,” said 1st Lt. Maria Lindsey, who works with Thomas-Evans.

“People will remember this Fourth of July.”


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