HONOLULU - It wasn't too difficult to coax Spc. Richard Allen out of his lair, June 6, to join the thousands who flocked to the zoo take advantage of the free food, entertainment and activities during the Military Appreciation Day.

For one thing, Allen, a signal support systems specialist, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, is a big fan of the animal kingdom. The zoo is always a worthwhile destination for him.

But for another and possibly more important reason, the Soldier absolutely loves those occasions when he can rub shoulders with other service members.

"I think this is great," said Allen of the event, while finding relief from the heat of the day under a well-covered static display station. "It's good to see fellow Soldiers out enjoying themselves."

With the support of event sponsor United Service Organizations-Hawaii, the zoo opened its doors early to military personnel. Waiting to greet and thank military families was Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and a slew of volunteers canvassing the zoo grounds.

"When the doors opened at 9 a.m., people started flooding in," observed Air Force Tech Sgt. Kimberly McCormack, a volunteer who helped hand out 8,000 bars of ice cream at the Meadow Gold tent. "It was amazing. They must have been sitting outside, just waiting and waiting."

Music lovers immediately found a spot on the front lawn, to listen to a lineup that included singer/guitarist Henry Kapono, and the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Hawaii, 10-piece ensemble, Hana Hou.

"The music's definitely better this year," commented Criztina Jean, who attended last year's event.

Meanwhile, families visited the animal exhibits and enjoyed face painting booths and other activities geared for children.

At the Aliamanu Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii tent, club members assisted guests as they tried their hand at a ring-toss game while outreach director Tricia Lam educated passers-by about the benefits of the youth program.

"One of the great things we do with our youth is to take them out to go surfing, kayaking and jet-skiing, and I think it's so cool because a lot of military kids don't really have a chance to get to the ocean," Lam explained. "This program provides them with a great opportunity for people to teach them."

The Army Hawaii Family Housing (AHFH) tent also turned out to be one of the more popular destinations for guests. There, representatives from the nonprofit organization Operation Homefront-Hawaii (OHH) encouraged visitors to register deployed Soldiers for free Aloha Care packages.

According to OHH president Eva Laird Smith, approximately 500 care packages, filled with island goodies such as macadamia nuts, coffee and flip flops, will be mailed out in time for Soldiers to receive them before the Fourth of July holiday.

"We've received hundreds of thank-you letters from our service men and women since we began this drive in 2007," she said. "They really do appreciate these tokens of aloha."

For some, the event turned out to be an opportunity to experience some leisure time with friends and family in Hawaii.

"This is the first time I've really gotten out since I got here in December," admitted Spc. Rebecca Hansen, a mental health specialist at Tripler Army Medical Center, who attended the event with her 2-year-old daughter. "It's been great."

Page last updated Fri June 12th, 2009 at 16:59