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July 4th, 2013
05:18 PM ET

Fourth of July fireworks cancelled thanks to federal budget cuts

For American children, there is nothing quite like Fourth of July fireworks - the awe, the excitement, the united American community congregating and looking to the skies.

Many outgrow that sense of wonder, but for children and their parents it is nothing short of magical.

For the children of members of the military, that feeling is even more intense and familial, given what members of the military – and their families – do for the United States, what they sacrifice.

But this year, because of Washington, D.C. dysfunction and the failure of the president and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to arrive at a budget compromise, there will be no fireworks for the children at several military bases, from Hawaii to North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the president and members of Congress will be treated to some of the most spectacular fireworks this nation has to offer, from prime viewing spots at the White House and Congress.

But because of those forced and careless budget cuts known as sequestration, troops and their families across the country will stand on base Thursday night, look up in the sky, and see nothing.

This year sequestration has lowered the boom on Independence Day by eliminating fireworks at Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Pearl Harbor, and several other U.S. bases across the country.

"This has been a very difficult decision for Fort Bragg to make, to cancel the Fourth of July activities. We know it is a draw to this community," said Fort Bragg spokesman Thomas McCollum.

At Camp Lejeune, where 20,000 people gather for Fourth of July celebrations each year, fireworks represent only about a quarter of the $100,000 celebration costs. The bulk of the budget goes to overtime for vendors, security teams, and clean up crews.

At nearby Fort Bragg the figure is even higher.

"We were paying over $130,000 alone in overtime pay for the civilian work force, and that is one area where we cannot go back and get reimbursed," said McCollum.

Donation offers have been pouring in, but any money sent to a military installation must be sent instead to the U.S. Treasury, and cannot be earmarked for a specific event. Even for fireworks displays.

"The problem is, you as an individual can't make a donation with strings attached and tell the government how they have to spend that money. Only Congress can do that," said defense budget analyst Todd Harrison.

The entire defense budget is about $525 billion. Scrapping fireworks displays at just a few military installations saves just a few hundred thousand dollars, or a very tiny percentage of the overall funds.

But as they say, every dollar helps. Harrison said fizzling the fireworks is just one of many budgeting measures sequestration necessitates, and one of the easiest.

"I think people really have to put it in perspective. Do you really want to complain about not having a fireworks display on July 4th when roughly a third of the Air Force's fire squadron is grounded due to sequestration?" said Harrison. "The priorities for defense spending have to be the things that are actually important for our national security, and that's what we have to keep in mind."

Still, on such a patriotic day, the frustration over this particular budget restriction is palpable.

"It really kind of pissed me off," said Joyce Burnette, a disabled Air Force veteran who now owns a fireworks stand. "They served our country. And for them to cancel the displays - I think that's un-American."

"It's disappointing to see that cut. I mean ... I grew up watching fireworks and I love them, so it's a real shame," said D.C. resident Ethan Gauvin.

Luckily, nearby communities have stepped up to the plate to throw modified celebrations off-base. Corporate and private donations have ensured that this Fourth of July will boast games, music, and food for armed forces, even if fireworks are furloughed.

"I think fireworks are the least prohibitive ... the only value that they really provide are aesthetic, and the Fourth of July really isn't about fireworks, it's about celebrating freedom and democracy," said D.C. resident Benjamin Cohen.

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