Motorcycle engines roared and a bright, spring sun blazed in the sky as hundreds of people poured into the Milwaukee, Wis. Harley-Davidson Museum May 21 to take part in the 2016 Milwaukee Armed Forces Day celebration capping off a week of activities to salute America's Armed Forces. One of the event's organizers, Maj. Harold Aprill, the executive officer for the 3rd Battalion, 399th Regiment, got several of his soldiers involved, bringing military vehicles such as a cargo truck and medium tactical wrecker to the event as part of a display to show off the local unit's capabilities and to provide some informative and fun community outreach.
As a committee member on the Milwaukee Armed Services Committee, Aprill not only helped plan the day's events, but he was able to truly live up to the ideals of being twice the citizen soldier, getting involved as both a civilian and an Army Reserve Soldier. Like Aprill, many reservists in the 3/399th, located in Sturtevant, Wis., are also active members of the community and the Armed Forces Day event provided an excellent opportunity for them to engage with the larger community.
Aprill explained that Armed Forces Day was intended to serve as a fun way to establish some one-on-one engagement between service members and the general public so that the average person could see up close who these men and women are and what they do.
"A lot of people say, 'we support the troops,'" said Aprill, "but it's always good to actually see the faces in the uniforms and to actually know that they're soldiers, but they're people, as well."
He said that Reserve Soldiers serve the community in and out of uniform, as students, teachers, business leaders, local officials or just concerned citizens.
"The best part about reservists is that...they're also an integral part of the community," he said. "They take those skills back to their communities and they make their communities better."
Becca Osmak, one of Aprill's neighbors in St. Francis, brought her six year old son Max to see the vehicles on display and pay their respects to the men and women who serve both Milwaukee and the United States.
"Any time people can show their support for the military and for what people like Howard give of themselves, it's great," she said.
Throughout the day, as the Milwaukee American Legion Band played rousing tunes for the crowd, children and family members alike talked with uniformed troops and learned about the vehicles on display. At any given moment, someone was exploring a military fire truck, trying on the Army's Advanced Combat Helmet, sitting in the turret of an up-armored Humvee, or climbing in the back of a cargo truck. Enthusiastic attendees even got to blast water from a fire hose and control the water pressure, discovering what it takes to be a fire fighter. Civilians mingled with past and present service members from all branches, sharing stories and learning about the strong bonds which bind the community together. But the day also carried with it a solemn reminder that not all those who serve make at back home to enjoy the rewards of their service and some who do return require extra care and attention to help transition back into the community.
Paying tribute to the selfless sacrifices of service members and their families, over 400 motorcyclists from around the state biked from Hal's Harley-Davidson dealership in New Berlin to the Milwaukee museum, snaking their way through the city for the 13th annual Support the Troops Ride, which was followed by brief afternoon ceremony honoring the fallen with a wreath laying ceremony by the river, a 21-gun salute, and the sounding of Taps.
Toward the end of the day, Aprill seemed particularly touched by the outpouring of support from the community.
"While soldiers certainly serve for various reasons, and they don't do it for the limelight, it's still nice on a day like today to get positive feedback and validation that all the hard work, all the training, all the sacrifice...is appreciated," April said.