Story and photos by Spc. Andrew Ingram
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
SOUTH PARK VALLEY – Soldiers and Families of the Mountain Post traveled deep into the mountains of Colorado for a unique experience in South Park Valley July 24-25.
From across the country, hot air balloon pilots hauled their canvas and wicker aircraft to the cool alpine valley to share the wonder of heat-propelled flight with servicemembers and their Families during the Celebration of Honor Fly.
Many of the pilots in attendance typically charge as much as $300 for an hourlong flight, but for two days the volunteers waved fees, allowing Soldiers and their loved ones to fly for free.
Soldiers and their guests arrived at 5:30 a.m., two hours later the first balloon launched, hoisting the nation’s colors as the participants rendered honors to the nation.
Following the national anthem, the balloonists took to the sky in their multi-colored craft, a silent armada of airships.
Chuck Danley, a retired Air Force major, said he began flying hot air balloons two years ago and loves to show others the joy of soaring on the winds.
“All of us love our sport and want to share it with everyone we can,” said Danley, pilot of “Great Escape.” “Add to that; this is a great way to do something fun for our troops.”
While all of the balloons lifted off at the same starting point, the wind carried the airships to different locations across the valley until each pilot decided to set his or her craft down.
Staff Sgt. Dane Crull, 615th Engineer Company, 52nd Eng. Battalion, said he enjoyed the experience.
“I have been on all sorts of aircraft – planes, helicopters – but this was something new for me,” said Crull, a construction equipment repairman. “This is the smoothest flight I have ever been on,”
As the day warmed and winds began to increase, the balloon pilots returned their passengers to the valley where they shared breakfast and accounts of their experiences in the air.