A 56-year tradition unofficially begins this Friday as the Mountain Home community comes together to showcase its support for the men and women of the armed forces.
Air Force Appreciation Day, or AFAD for short, is a celebration whose reputation extends well beyond Elmore County and even our state. In fact, a number of military members learn about it immediately after they get orders to Mountain Home Air Force Base.
But what I think catches most of these airmen and their families off guard is the sheer magnitude of the celebration.
During my 25 years in the Air Force, I served at bases in a number of communities across the United States and overseas. A few towns located near these bases didn't appreciate the military's presence. Others claimed they supported the military or did what they could to show they were patriotic, but it seemed pretty limited.
A celebration in Great Falls, Mont., was one that sticks in my mind. It provided plenty of food and prizes for everyone that attended. In fact, the first family portrait I had with my wife and our first daughter was made possible because we won a photo portrait package at that event.
However, organizers in that city made the celebration a strictly military-only event. Just to get through the gate, you had to present a military ID card.
That's not true in our small, but proud, community. No matter if you served in the armed forces, know someone who did or are simply curious, AFAD welcomes everyone to take part in the festivities.
Truth be told, I have to laugh from time to time when I run into people attending AFAD for the first time. Most of them are simply stunned by the number of people lining the streets of this city to catch the parade.
A few were convinced that the state's largest parade -- a reputation Mountain Home is proud to maintain by the way -- ran as long as it does. I've always wondered how many of them thought it ran nearly two hours because they believed each entry was making two or more trips along the parade route.
That perspective changes quickly when they see all of the individual parade entries lined up and down the streets of our downtown area. It tends to leave a lot of them simply speechless.
Then there's the celebration in Carl Miller Park. It not only serves one of the largest (and free) barbecue lunches out there, it also showcases musical entertainment and other attractions well into the late afternoon.
All of this was made possible because people in this community came together wanting to do something for the men and women of the local Air Force base -- something that was not only memorable but also very special. They did it while never expecting anything in return.
In the beginning, it was people like Bill Sanders, Dean Wilson, Jim "Scrubby" Birchfield, Jack Streeter, Lloyd Waters, Roy Watson and Lyle Evans that worked countless hours to make the celebration so successful. Then there were others like Tom Hacker and Larry Ashcraft, who added events like the annual fun run and walk, which continues to bring together people from across southern Idaho for an evening of friendly competition.
I know that I'm forgetting a number of people out there, but please know that your contributions are truly appreciated.
When compared to other communities across the United States, Mountain Home is pretty tiny with less than 14,000 people according to the latest Census figures. But what makes us stand out over everyone else is our unwaivering patriotic spirit.
Sure there are those out there that will occasionally wave the American flag or beat on their chests saying they're proud to be an American. But that patriotic spirit is often fleeting and fades from peoples' memory quickly.
Remember all of the American flags that people had on display in front of their businesses and homes following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? How many of those same people, who live in places like the Treasure Valley, still have that patriotic spirit?
Out of those same individuals, how many of these folks truly understand the sacrifices made by those who serve in the armed forces? At the same time, do any of them also remember that it just doesn't affect these men and women?
Keep this in mind. Any time our Gunfighters deploy, they leave behind their spouses and children, all of whom struggle to continue with their day-to-day lives while worrying about their loved ones. Let's not forget that many of these airmen continue to serve in some very dangerous places overseas where being an American automatically makes you a target.
Mountain Home is, by far, the most patriotic communities I've ever seen. We don't draw attention to ourselves regarding patriotism because we live it each and every day.
Just check people's homes on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Flag Day. You'll see a large number of homes with flags flying overheads.
Speaking of which, I have just one (hopefully) small request during this year's AFAD parade. When you see the Mountain Home Air Force Base Honor Guard or the American Legion honor guard approach bearing the American flag, please stop what you're doing, stand up, remove your hat and place it over heart and remain standing in silence until the Stars and Stripes pass by.
Be sure your children do the same so they understand and appreciate the need to pay their respects.
Whether this is your first AFAD or your 56th, take time out of your busy schedule to join the thousands of citizens of our community, who willingly showcase their pride in the U.S. military and the ideals it represents. I doubt that you'll be disappointed.
-- Brian S. Orban