Warmer temperatures and sunny skies drew thousands of people that gathered along a nearly 1 1/2 mile stretch of city streets during the 52nd Annual Air Force Appreciation Day celebration.
It's a tradition that's known across the Air Force, according to Col. Chris Short, who took command of the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base in mid-April. Just minutes after he received word of his assignment, people were stopping by his office and telling him about the Mountain Home community.
As he prepared to ride in this year's parade with his wife and children, the colonel applauded the community's outpouring of support for those who serve in the U.S. armed forces.
"It's one of the unique things that makes Mountain Home so special," the colonel said. "It demonstrates a tremendous amount of support that this community gives to Gunfighters. This partnership is essential to how we do business."
This year's festivities kicked off Friday evening during a corn shucking event attended by local civic members and representatives from the nearby Air Force base. Among them was two-year-old Eli Jensen, who got a jump start on the competition as he pulled the husks off a couple of ears before the event officially started.
Normally seen as a race between military and civic participants with each group of participants jockeying to finish first, this year's event seemed to lack some of that competitive spirit. However, it still took just minutes for the dozens of participants to husk the thousands of ears of corn with volunteers piling them into a holding barrel in preparation for Saturday's barbecue.
With the evening's chores complete, running enthusiasts gathered on North 10th East Street to begin another tradition during this year's Air Force Appreciation Day fun run and walk races. Hoisting a double-barrel shotgun into the air, John Watkins fired off a round to signal the start of the five-mile fun run. Two minutes later, he fired off a second volley as more competitors began the shorter, three-mile walk.
Dressed in traditional, frontiersman attire of the late 1800s, Watkins has started every race since 1994 when he was asked by his co-workers to help out.
"They asked me if I could do it because they thought it would be a pretty good thing," he said. "I've kept doing it ever since."
While the younger runners can finish the run in roughly 30 minutes, fun run organizer Brad Seymour admitted that recent road construction in this part of town posed some challenges for this year's competitors.
"It's more like an obstacle course than a run," said Seymour, who highlighted the number of potholes and muddy conditions along East 8th North Street.
This year's run broke from tradition as Kaupins Gundars of Boise crossed the finish line at 30 minutes, 32.479 seconds. It was possibly the first time that a walker had finished the appreciation day race before the much-faster runners.
Less than four minutes later, 366th Fighter Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Geoff Weimer became the first runner to finish the race with an official time of 34 minutes, 2.466 seconds. He completed the run less than 24 hours after he was sidelined by a stomach bug.
"It was a good run -- a good course with a little variety thrown in with all the construction," said Weimer, who finished his second AFAD run last week.
Meanwhile, Laurel McMahan continued her winning ways as the top women's runner. She crossed the finish line at 35 minutes, 59.566 seconds to win her fourth consecutive AFAD title.
"It was a little slow out there," said McMahan, who marked her fifth appearance at the annual AFAD road race. While the road construction wasn't too bad in terms of slowing down the pack, the evening heat did have an affect, she added.
But that didn't stop Lisa Anderson of Mountain Home from becoming the fastest women's walker during the yearly race with her official time of 34 minutes, 7.205 seconds.
Air Force Appreciation Day festivities moved into full gear early Saturday as parade enthusiasts started to line the parade route. In many cases, families had staked out prime spots along the shaded areas along American Legion Boulevard.
Meanwhile, others like Ryan and Jennifer Cannon looked for other vantage points along the parade route. Finishing work on a float for the 366th Medical Group at the nearby Air Force base, they found a prime spot near the intersection of East Jackson and North 2nd East streets.
"We try to stay toward the beginning of the parade so the kids don't have to wait as long for it to finish," Jennifer Cannon said.
It was the fourth year the Cannon family had come to the parade. While they enjoyed the different variety of floats showcased each year, Ryan Cannon admitted the Shriners' miniature cars remain their personal favorites.
"Well, there's that and the candy; the kids love the candy," Jennifer Cannon said.
Parade participation this year remained on par with 135 registered entries, which included three, last-minute stragglers. It was just a few entries shy of the 150 registered groups that took part in AFAD's 50th anniversary parade in 2010.
The annual parade remains the largest in the state.
"Everything went really well. There were a lot of floats this year, which people really love," said Sue Gross, who organizes the yearly parade.
There were a few new appearances this year. Among them was the United States Submarine Veterans Inc., who made the trek from Wendell.
"They had never been in the parade before and called up and asked if they could participate," Gross said.
While the total number of parade entries was down a little this year, it didn't factor in the myriad of vehicles included in each entry, she added. The American Legion Post 26 Riders -- a team of patriotic motorcycle enthusiasts -- rolled through town with roughly 100 choppers and bikes. Meanwhile, the 366th Civil Engineer Squadron displayed a dozen military vehicles with the 726th Air Control Squadron adding another half dozen specialized vehicles to the parade lineup.
"This is the high point of my life; I never miss a parade," said Kenda Schroeder as she watched members of the 25th Idaho Army National Guard Band prepare for the day's performance.
Each of this year's entries qualified for a chance to earn distinction as the People's Choice award for best overall parade entry. That honor went to the Mountain Home Parks and Recreation cheerleaders, who had less than three weeks to prepare for this year's event.
As the last entry passed the judges' reviewing stand nearly two hours and 15 minutes after the parade began, appreciation day enthusiasts packed into Carl Miller Park to check out the myriad of food and entertainment that continued throughout the afternoon.
Highlighting the afternoon's list of entertainment was a concert featuring the Mobility Rock Band -- a rock 'n' roll group from the Air Force Band of the Golden West based out of Travis Air Force Base, Calif. Saturday marked the group's second consecutive appearance during Air Force Appreciation Day.
As the live music echoed across the park, youngsters like Skyler Maroney were trying their luck at winning prizes during a hula hoop contest. Hosted by Elmore Medical Center, the event required the five-year-old to keep the hoop moving during an assortment of different challenges.
While other tents and attractions had their own allure, a demonstration hosted by the 366th Security Forces Squadron gave the term "batting practice" a whole new meaning. With members of the squadron dressed head to toe in padded protective gear, they became the willing targets of youngsters like Breck Franklin and Ella Reynolds, who were each given 60 seconds to smack the airmen with padded batons.
While the youngsters got in plenty of good hits, the airmen were often able to deflect the repeated onslaught. In the end, the children knew it was all in the name of good-natured fun.