FORT MEADE, Md. -- For Anthony Laus and his friends, National Night Out is more than a study in crime prevention.

The annual event, held Aug. 4 on McGlachlin Parade Field, offers a final opportunity for the Fort Meade community to hang out before school begins.

"I'm just glad that the base can all do something together," said Laus, 18, a Towson University sophomore residing in Meuse Forest. "It is the end of summer, and this is our last send-off before everyone gets busy again."

Visitors to the 26th annual National Night Out mingled over free hot dogs, live music and inflatable play zones; filled bags with giveaways and safety information; viewed crime-prevention demonstrations; and toured emergency and law-enforcement vehicles.

"It's probably been the best one in the four years I've been here," said Master Sgt. Martin Escobar of the Defense Information School.

National Night Out is sponsored by Picerne Military Housing in cooperation with the Fort Meade Police. More than 20 area businesses participated, providing information and entertainment as well as food, beverages, snow cones and raffle prizes.

"Simply put, I am once again greatly impressed by the obviously fantastic results of the Directorate of Emergency Services, our law enforcement partners from the outside and associated communities, Picerne and the other commercial partners," said Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas, who signed the National Night Out proclamation. "They put on a world-class event that gets better every year. I was also impressed by the community support and attendance."

The oversized block party drew about 5,000 people, said Fort Meade Police Capt. Thomas Russell, an event organizer. "I think we had a great turnout," he said. "The most important thing is [residents] get out and talk with police officers and see we're not so bad. We're just out here to enforce the law."

Sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, National Night Out is designed to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, while strengthening neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships.

Last year, the National Association of Town Watch recognized Fort Meade for hosting one of the top National Night Out events on a military installation.

"It's a great community event," said Mary Staab, chief of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. "National Night Out features what law enforcement does for the community. It keeps getting better. People know it's going to be a nice event and they come out."

The four-hour celebration began with a parade of emergency vehicles through the residential neighborhoods. As they approached the parade field, Thomas waved from atop a fire truck, joined by McGruff the Crime Dog and Sparky the Fire Dog, who descended to a crowd of awestruck children.

As Bubbles the Clown configured balloon animals and Picerne served up 5,000 grilled hot dogs, long lines quickly formed for Ident-A-Kid identification kits, tours of an Anne Arundel County Police helicopter, paint ball, fast-ball pitching and the inflatable 80-foot-high Navy Aircraft Carrier featuring an obstacle course and slide.

"It was pretty fun," said Escobar's 11-year-old son Nathan.

Crowds howled during simulated bomb-sniffing and attack demonstrations by the National Security Agency K-9 unit that starred a pair of Belgian Malinois. "We give quick scenarios of apprehension work and defense tactics -- basic knowledge of what we do and to know what they are capable of," said Cpl. Duane Rebert, an NSA dog handler. "Everybody enjoys the scenarios."

Sgt. Wayne Mullaney, of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Special Operations Division, led tours of the Mobile Command Vehicle's elaborate communications and video system.

Visitors also climbed aboard a 25-foot Coast Guard boat used in search and rescue missions and homeland security. Machine Technician 2nd Class Nicholas Scelson and Fireman Dave Fleming of Station Curtis Bay displayed the boat's radio and electronics, how to drive forward and in reverse, and how to turn on its blue lights and sirens.

"The event lets them know what we do," Scelson said. "They know a lot about the Army, Marines. But a lot don't know that we're close to home and basically, protect the United States and all internal waters."

To cool off, children ran through water sprayed from fire hoses while adults relaxed or danced to top-40 hits performed by The Volunteers, of the U.S. Army Field Band, and DJ Scott West, a Montgomery County Police officer.

Many families didn't leave until the last lights flickered off. "I love it -- I come every year," said Melinda Purnell of Meuse Forest, who attended with her husband, Staff Sgt. Darius Purnell, and children, Victoria, 4, and Darius, 6. "Everyone gets to come and see everyone you know. And the kids and the families have a blast together."

Page last updated Fri August 14th, 2009 at 10:50