Lacey honors JBLM soldiers, airmen at annual Military Family Day

rob.carson@thenewstribune.comSeptember 7, 2013 

CABELAS

Event director Andrew Oczkewicz of the Hawks Prairie Rotary Club takes cover as thousands of pieces of candy begin to fall from a hovering helicopter Saturday during the annual Military Family Day celebration at Cabela's in Lacey.

TONY OVERMAN THE OLYMPIAN Buy Photo

Several hundred military members and their families converged on the Cabela’s parking lot in Lacey Saturday for the city’s 11th annual Military Family Day.

The event, organized by the Rotary Club of Hawks Prairie, featured free hot dogs, music, activities for kids and displays of military equipment and war memorabilia.

“We started it as a fundraiser,” said Andrew Oczkewicz, one of the Rotary Club organizers. “Now it’s kind of morphed into a community event.”

“We’re a very strong military town,” Oczkewicz added. “They help us; we help them. This is just a chance to show some love.”

In remarks at a brief ceremony at 11 a.m., Col. Dave Bair, commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Stryker Brigade, said the feeling is mutual.

“We’re humbled to be a part of this community, and we’re humbled by all that you do,” Bair said.

The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division is the Army’s most-deployed Stryker brigade. It deployed to Iraq three times and finished a one-year tour in Afghanistan in December 2012.

Lately, its 4,000 soldiers have been recovering from their last combat tour and preparing for likely assignments supporting joint military exercises with allies along the Pacific Rim.

Saturday’s event was so well-attended, the several-acre parking lot at the outdoor equipment store was filled to capacity and traffic on the series of roundabouts and roads leading to Interstate 5 slowed to a crawl.

An army of small children had their faces painted, shot paintball guns designed to look like miniature assault rifles, clambered up a climbing wall and checked out the insides of Stryker vehicles on display.

The highlight of the day was a noontime candy drop, in which bushels of Tootsie Rolls were dropped from a hovering helicopter into a cleared space on the parking lot.

Organizers also presented four Distinguished Patriot awards to high achievers selected by base commanders.

Those honored were Capt. Stephen Smith, a flight nurse with the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron; Staff Sgt. Ryan Stoks, a cargo supervisor with the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron; Airman 1st Class James King, a C-17 loadmaster; and Sgt. Nathaniel Phillips, a Stryker brigade soldier who re-enlisted in the Army after leaving to care for his ailing mother, then spent two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

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