Citing mandatory federal budget cuts from what's known as the sequester, Great Lakes Naval Station has canceled its Fourth of July celebration.
Officials at the base, nestled between Lake Bluff and North Chicago, announced the decision Friday. Great Lakes' free festivities opened to the public in the mid-1990s, went on hiatus after the 2001 terrorist attacks and resumed in 2008.
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John Prue, installation program director for the base's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department, said the event always has been financially self-sufficient. However, security and other protection costs cannot be absorbed because of this year's financial uncertainty, said Prue, who has coordinated the event for more than 20 years.
He added that the base also is following directions from higher-ranking military officials.
"I think the big thing is we're going to posture and come back in 2014," Prue said.
Great Lakes' commanding officer, Capt. Randall Lynch, was reviewing areas on the base that will be affected by the mandatory budget cuts. Base spokesman John Sheppard said Lynch eventually got to the Fourth of July celebration during an "all-hands-on-deck" discussion Wednesday.
"He said we had to cancel the Fourth of July and there was an audible gasp," Sheppard said.
Officials said even if the sequester were to suddenly end, Great Lakes wouldn't have enough time to contract bands, fireworks, food, sponsorships and other essentials for what had been planned as a two-day celebration. More than 55,000 people attended Fourth of July festivities over three days when Great Lakes celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011.
Along with food, beverages, base tours, bands and fireworks, the celebration has included amateur boxing bouts under a tent at Ross Field, and the U.S. Army Soldier Show. Active-duty soldiers selected from auditions throughout the Army are showcased in what typically has been afternoon and evening performances that draw throngs to a base theater.
Security concerns were cited when the festival was placed on hiatus for six years after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Navy officials said they enacted several security measures to allow the public Fourth of July event to restart in 2008.
Lynch said it's unfortunate this year's event is canceled.
"It is definitely a fantastic opportunity for the Navy and the installation to give back to the community for all they do for us each year," Lynch said in a statement. "Hopefully, budgets will allow for the event to take place in 2014 and subsequent years."
Great Lakes' Fourth of July celebrations were primarily internal and for military families and civilian employees, with some invited guests, for several decades after the base opened July 1, 1911. Navy officials launched the public celebration in 1993 as a way for visitors to see the typically off-limits base and enjoy Fourth of July with the military.