Thousands of people flocked to McChord Field’s Heritage Hill Saturday for Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s annual celebration of Armed Forces Day, a national celebration created in 1949 to unify the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense and replace the prior separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force days.
At JBLM, the free event, coordinated by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, was previously hosted at Cowan and Memorial stadiums on Lewis Main since the early 1980s.
With lines of parked military vehicles for children and adults to view and climb aboard, as well as the variety of static aircraft on display, there were plenty of fun activities. Dozens of food and information booths, carnival rides, climbing wall, roving entertainers, musicians, war re-enactors, a Volksmarch and a petting zoo were available.
Five-year-old Rayza Cuba giggled as Leapin’ Louie, a cowboy on stilts, lassoed the child in the middle of the walkway. The entertainer asked Rayza’s parents, Desiree and Spc. Chris Cuba, 4th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, for permission before circling the girl with his lasso.
“That was fun,” Rayza said. “I like cowboys, and he’s so tall.”
The Castro family of Yelm — Roseanna and Pete Castro, a former Marine Corps sergeant who is currently a civilian contractor with the Air Force’s Western Air Defense Sector, and their children, Lilah, 5, and Nathan, 3 — spent some time enjoying the animals in the petting zoo.
The family moved about a year ago from San Diego, where they had farm animals, including their own goats and a pig.
“I miss having goats,” Roseanna said, after walking around in the enclosure and allowing Lilah and Nathan to pet the goats and a young calf.
Terry Smith, a Revolutionary War historian with the 2nd Connecticut Regiment of Military, dressed in period costume. He had a steady flow of visitors to his booth as he talked of clothing styles of the time and explained how to load and fire a smooth bored gun — similar to those used during America’s first war.
Smith, a Seattleite, has been demonstrating his passion for the Revolutionary War at JBLM’s Armed Forces Day celebration for the past decade.
“Most people don’t know a lot about American history,” Smith said. “Especially on the West Coast, there’s not a lot of Revolutionary War history taught, so I enjoy sharing what I know.”
For many, the military vehicles and planes were the highlight of the day.
Private First Class Blayne Shockley, Group Support Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), moved to JBLM one month ago, shortly after joining the Army. He said growing up in St. Louis, he never had a chance to go to military events.
Shockley helped the kids learn about the Oshkosh Defense, Standard Special Forces Mine Resistant Ambush Protected all terrain vehicle, where he was positioned during the day. Nine-year-old Jayden Gray and his 6-year-old brother, Landen, happily climbed off the MRAP vehicle with a little help from Shockley.
The boys were at the event with their parents, Lisa and retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Herbert Gray. The family lives on Fox Island and brought along a neighbor child, Aiden Martinez, 9, who also enjoyed the military vehicles.
“This is my first time coming here, and I’m learning a lot of stuff about the Army,” Aiden said.
Landen said he enjoyed the airplanes best — “especially one that had a machine gun on the front.”
The 6-year-old said he now wants to be a scuba diver when he grows up, after talking with a few Special Forces service members about that adventurous occupation.
“We try to come to Armed Forces Day every year; we really look forward to it,” Gray said. “It’s fun for the whole family.”