By Rick WoodSeptember 17, 2010
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - The 8th annual Military Family Support Day brought out military and civilian families for fun and commemoration.
The Cabela's parking lot in Lacey was transformed into a celebration of Joint Base Lewis-McChord service members September 11.
Thousands of people milled about and took in the displays that ranged from current to vintage military.
Members of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, a Stryker brigade combat team, brought two of their armored vehicles out for display at the event.
Specialist Blake Lavetan, who was one of several Soldiers from 3rd Bde. who showed visitors the unit's Stryker vehicles, said he enjoyed meeting the public.
But for Lavetan, it was the look on the children's faces as they approached the Stryker vehicle that brought a smile.
"They're first reaction is kind of overwhelmed," Lavetan said. "There are just so many components and things going on inside. They are a little scared at first - a little intimidated to see a big, green up-armored vehicle."
However, the children quickly conquered their trepidation and enjoyed sitting in the different seats, he said.
"They love to look out of the hatches," Lavetan said.
Another draw for children was the Explosive Ordnance Disposal robot on display by members of the 62nd Civil Engineering Squadron's EOD team.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Song Lee said having an opportunity to display some of their equipment is a unique experience.
"You get a lot of questions from people about what we do," Lee said. "The kids like to check out the robot."
Civilian Dave Root came with family members to shop at Cabela's and stumbled across the event outside.
"We thought we'd bring him down here for a nice day," Root said of his young son, Dylan. "We're really delighted to see all of this stuff."
Though they hadn't planned on the event, the family was happy to be there, he said.
Recording Artist Jonathan Harris, who wrote "Thanks to You I'm Free" to express his gratitude to veterans, was on hand and provided musical entertainment.
I Corps Commander Maj. Gen. John D. Johnson said the reception and celebration from the Lacey community was second to none.
"It's great to be here on Patriots Day and it's great to get the opportunity to thank military families for all that they do," Johnson said. "We know that that's the bedrock - we know that's our strength."
Johnson also noted the somber memorial of the 9/11 attacks of 2001.
At noon, a helicopter candy drop by Glacier Aviation sent children into a frenzy as they scooped up their share of 13,000 Tootsie Rolls.
Event organizers Andrew Oczkewicz and Dave Newkirk said they were thrilled to see the turnout and to have the chance to show their support for the troops.
"It is all about showing community appreciation," Oczkewicz said. "The coolest thing is to hear the stories of our veterans."
The event recognized four current military members for their service.
Specialist Justice Paul Torwan deployed to Iraq in 2008, serving as a gunner on a humvee and a rifleman on foot patrols.
Specialist Michael Strauch joined the Army in 2008 and was trained as an assistant gunner on the mortar Stryker vehicles and the ground mounted 81 mm and 60 mm mortar systems. While serving in Iraq, Strauch and his platoon were hit by a vehicle born improvised explosive device. He was medically evacuated with severe wounds to his face and right leg.
Chief Master Sgt. Arthur Green is the operations chief of the Air Force Reserve's 446th Air Wing, specifically the 36th Aerial Port Squadron, whose 130 airmen support and deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan in loading and unloading cargo and load the remains of fallen heroes for their final journey.
Green deployed three times and was in charge of the aerial port operations that received humanitarian aid via air through Port Au-Prince Airport in Haiti.
Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Harris is the superintendent for 446th Services Flight, whose 23 Reservists have the honor of preparing fallen heroes for return to their families as part of the Air Force mortuary program which supports all American military services. Harris has prepared more than 500 fallen heroes in his career.
"These are all folks who haven't necessarily been recognized for their service before," Oczkewicz said.
Hawks Prairie Rotarians, spearheaded by Al Eckroth and Oczkewicz, developed the idea for the Military Family Support March in 2003 in support of deployed Soldiers and their families.
In 2009, the event venue moved to Cabela's parking lot and the parade became a daylong celebration of military service members and their families, he said.
The Military Family Support March has raised and donated more than $250,000 to military family support organizations and other groups that assist military families in the area, including family readiness groups, memorial associations, Fisher House and the Madigan Foundation, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord food banks. Donations also provide child care coupons, give holiday baskets to families in need and provide college scholarships for military family members, Oczkewicz said.
Rick Wood is a reporter with Joint base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.