Local military support group hosts public event in hopes to draw more members

Local military, police and firefighters take part in a relay race during the 2017 Military Appreciation Day Picnic in Gig Harbor.
Local military, police and firefighters take part in a relay race during the 2017 Military Appreciation Day Picnic in Gig Harbor. Courtesy

Gig Harbor firefighters have defeated local military members and police at softball the last few years, but will they finally be beaten this year?

Family and friends — plus, for the first time, the public — can find out Aug. 3 during the annual military-city employee softball tournament at the Military Appreciation Picnic at Sehmel Park.

“The Fire Department has won the past couple years,” said John Guardia, president of the Gig Harbor sub-chapter of the Association of the United States Army, which sponsors the picnic. “But we’ll see if they keep their title.”

The tournament will be one of several sporting events and family activities at the picnic, which the sub-chapter has put on the past five years for military members, veterans, family and friends.

The picnic also will have face-painting for children, a beer garden, free food for military members and their families, food trucks for regular visitors and music.

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A game of touch football at last year’s Military Appreciation Day Picnic included a moment of dance. John Guardia Courtesy

In the past, the sub-chapter invited only military members and their families, along with city officials. This year, it’s opening the event to the public, Guardia said.

“People who want to come can buy food and check out what is happening,” he said. “If people of the community want to check it out, we want them to enjoy the day.”

The sub-chapter was created more than 10 years ago as a part of the Captain Meriwether Lewis Chapter in Tacoma, which supports military members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“AUSA has been around since the 1940s,” Guardia said. “The idea was … the Army wanted to enhance community connections. So AUSA jumped on that bandwagon.”

Its mission is to be the voice of the Army, foster public support of the Army’s role in national security and provide professional education and information programs to military members, veterans and their families.

Nationally, the organization lobbies for the military and for laws that support the interests of veterans and military members, Guardia said. Closer to home, the sub-chapters help support local families through events, fund raisers and donations.

“Locally, we try to just support our troops,” Guardia said. “The main chapter does events for soldiers who are returning from deployment. It could be as basic as having a care package for those soldiers who may not have family and are going back to the barracks. It gives them the basics and maybe some cookies, so they are not going to the barracks with nothing.”

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Gig Harbor firefighters have taken home the title the past two years at the Military Appreciation Day Picnic’s softball tournament. John Guardia Courtesy

The Gig Harbor sub-chapter has held networking events for soldiers leaving the military to help them meet potential new employers.

It also will host Suits for Service Members at the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Summer Swing Golf Tournament.

“If you are planning to retire your professional dress suit, maybe … you can donate it to us,” Guardia said. “It allows service members who are transitioning out to go to his closet and pull out a brand new suit that is suitable for an interview.”

At Thanksgiving, the sub-chapter supports Operation Turkey Drop, which provides turkeys and food supplies for military members in need. Operation Ham Grenade does the same at Christmas.

The sub-chapter, which has about 50 members, is always looking for more local members, Guardia said.

Anyone interested in becoming a member can talk to a AUSA representative at the picnic, he said. Potential members don’t have to be affiliated with a military branch.

In the meantime, Guardia is looking forward to a successful picnic.

“We are excited to see everyone out there enjoying the day,” he said.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie