A Sequester Fizzle for Military Fireworks This Fourth of July

Several military bases have canceled their firework celebrations this Fourth of July due to sequestration.

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Shaun Heasley / REUTERS

Fireworks light up the sky over the Iwo Jima memorial marking the Fourth of July in Arlington, July 4, 2005.

The United States imported nearly $230 million of fireworks last year, and some of the largest producers have seen revenues increase by over ten percent this year. But in military bases across the country, there won’t be any snap, crackle, or pop. Congress, through sequestration, has taken away from the troops on Independence Day.

The sequester—designed to be terrible policy—meant $85 billion across-the-board cuts in March. While cities like Seattle have saved their Fourth of July celebrations through corporate backers and private interests, the military had little time to regroup and fundraise.

Hawaii’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marines Corps Base, South Carolina’s Shaw Air Force Base, New Jersey’s Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island all had to cancel their firework displays this year. Texas’ Fort Hood managed to salvage its fireworks from dipping into profits earned from its recycling center.

Brandy Rhoad Stowe, wife of a master gunnery sergeant at Camp Lejeune told the AP, “I know fireworks might seem silly to other people. “But what is the Fourth of July without fireworks?”

Grace Hew Len, director of public affairs at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, said that their Fourth of July event has been a tradition for at least 25 years and attracts more than 13,000 people a year. They canceled their fireworks, saving $55,000, and will instead host a July 4 Beachfeast.

The cuts come at a time when the private sector is, well, blasting off. “We have turned down a number of displays for the 4th due to capacity constraints,” says Doug Taylor, president of Zambelli fireworks. But they have had “several” displays at military bases that have been cancelled due to the sequestration.

Phil Grucci, President and CEO of Grucci fireworks, told TIME that while usually his company does six or seven military shows, this year only Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii could manage to celebrate. “Schofield is probably going to have about 45,000 people there…The cost per person is relatively efficient.”

What’s ironic is that Congress in large part started the tradition of blowing up rockets on the Fourth. According to James Heintze, Librarian Emeritus at American University, John Adams and other representatives in Congress set up a 13-rocket show in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. “That was a time in the [Revolutionary] War when things weren’t going well,” says Heintze. “It was a morale builder.”

Cowpens National Battlefield, a Revolutionary War battle site in South Carolina, has been a Zambelli customer in the past. But according to John Slaughter, superintendent of Cowpens, sequestration cut $42,000, or 5 percent, of their budget this year. They cut $31,000 by canceling their July 4 event. “There’s certainly some disappointment in the community,” says Slaughter. Four to six thousand people show up to their event every year. The hope lies in next year.

“Even though sequestration certainly has affects that are disappointing across the federal government, the bright side is that it is bringing out the best in a number of those folks who are want to help us through philanthropy,” says Slaughter. The park has developed a “friends group” to donate funds for fireworks next year. “If there is an uptick to it, that’s it. More people are coming out to say, ‘Hey, what can we do to help conserve and preserve the programs and the ability to access our national parks? It’s that important to us.’”