OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Servicemembers on private yachts passed under a U.S. flag suspended from a harbor crane as a large formation of firefighters and policemen flashed their emergency lights along the shore of the Puget Sound. It was a salute of sorts to the servicemembers passing by Sept. 9 during the annual tradition locally known as "FOOFARAW."

With the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th just days away, Soldiers and Airmen from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Sailors from Whidbey Island waved back in a show of mutual respect.
FOOFARAW, an annual event sponsored by the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce and members of the Olympia Yacht Club, celebrated its 49th anniversary this year.

John W. "Bill" Johnson, a worker for the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, launched the first FOOFARAW in September 1962 as part of an outreach program with the military at Fort Lewis, Madigan Army Hospital, and McChord Air Force Base.

FOOFARAW is defined as "much ado about nothing" and the official "purpose" of the day states that: "A Foofarite has earned the right to say 'Foo' to all duties and responsibilities for one day each year."

One Soldier who had earned that right was Sgt. Mitch Anwar, assigned to 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "This was such a good time; but any duty day you can spend relaxing in civilian clothes having drinks on a boat is going to be."

Bill Hartman, owner of a boat named Hart to Hart, has hosted military Foofarites on multiple occasions.

"I'm guessing this is about my 15th outing, and it is always a pleasure to meet these men and women who serve. It's a great turnout this year, we've got 37 ships taking part today," said Hartman.

Participating Olympia Yacht Club Captains transported their guests up Budd Inlet to Island Home, a private island owned by the club. Once on the island, they were greeted with music by Olympia's Highland Bag Pipers and invited to participate in outdoor activities including volleyball, horse shoes, basketball and relay races.

Attendees gather at the Olympia Yacht Club the morning of the first Friday after Labor Day each year. Each skipper tells FOOFARAW planners how many guests his or her boat can accommodate and they assign a mix of military and Chamber participants to their hosts' boats. Each Chamber member pays a hosting fee to attend, and those fees assist in paying for the food and refreshments.

"This exceeded my expectations, I'm glad for the opportunity to come out here and enjoy this," said Alen Prieto, a Navy Aviation Boatswain's Mate Aircraft Handler stationed at Whidbey Island.

Several drawings were held for the military guests, which gave prize gifts donated by the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce members. The highlight of the island events was a feast of smoked salmon prepared by Chehalis tribe members.

"We're grateful for all your service and truly honored to have you as guests. What you do too often goes underappreciated," said Jessica Jensen, Chair of the Thurston County Chamber Board in an address to all in attendance.