Honoring the nation's armed forces
Dozens of conversations quickly wrapped up as people looked to the western sky. The crowd began cheering as a pair of A-10 Thunderbolts from the Idaho Air National Guard passed overhead to signal the start of a local tradition that celebrated its 55th anniversary on Saturday.
Thousands of people packed shoulder to shoulder along the streets of Mountain Home as they paid tribute to the nation's military during this year's Air Force Appreciation Day.
The community celebration is just one way of seeing firsthand how the base remains heavily integrated into the Mountain Home community, according to senior leaders at Mountain Home Air Force Base.
This year's festivities unofficially kicked off Friday evening during a corn shucking event attended by local civic members and representatives from the nearby Air Force base.
Among those attending the event were Lt. Col. Gary Marlowe, 389th Fighter Squadron commander, who brought his wife, Jewel, and their children, Olivia, Amelia, Grant and Eliza to help shuck corn.
It was a lot of fun watching the community come together in such a fun way, Marlowe said.
"My family is just having a great time here," he added.
"This corn shucking thing is amazing -- the way the base and the community come together," said Robyn Cavanagh from Olympia, Wash., who was in Mountain Home to visit her son at the base. "Being from a military family, we haven't seen this togetherness in a community since the 70s. It's heart warming."
"This was completely original," said Kia Evans, who was busy shucking corn with his fiancee, Kendra Herman. "I come from a big city and you don't see this type of thing in the city... it's great."
It took seven minutes and 40 seconds for the teams of volunteers to peel the husks off the 3,800 ears of corn specifically set aside for Saturday's barbecue, which was significantly faster than the 10 minutes it took to peel husk 4,200 ears of corn last year, said Carmen Longo.
In between those evening chores, 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. Organized by representatives from the Treasure Valley YMCA, this year's race began a new tradition with a one-mile run geared specifically for child athletes with a five-kilometer course held later that evening for the older competitors.
Elis Juarez led the pack with an official time of 23 minutes, 16.53 seconds, with Bernardo Gomez finishing second overall at 23:37.61. Heather Messenger Schultz was the fastest woman runner this year, crossing the finish line at 23:42.35. She edged six-time AFAD title winner Laurel McMahman, who posted a final time of 24:38.97.
Gundars Kaupins of Boise continued his winning ways as the fastest man to walk the five-kilometer course with a final time of 32:40.70, besting Teresa Filipovich, who finished second overall at 37:15.55.
Other competitors took to the volleyball court during a tournament that began on Friday that has base and city teams vying for top honors and, more important, bragging rights.
"This is the third year I've played in this tourney, and it's the biggest one by far," said Mike Hurt from the city's under-50 team. "It will likely continue to grow, making it fun for even more of our community."
"The sun was directly in our eyes on that side of the court and it was brutal but we still managed to overcome... that's spirit," team co-captain Brian Peterson commented following his team's win.
As the runners continued to cross the finish line, others were busy setting up their tents and booths in Carl Miller Park to prepare for the main festivities the following day. For the second consecutive year, Beverly Roth from Crow Creek Crafts drove from Weiser specifically for this year's celebration.
"It's a big, spirited crowd with a lot of very nice people. I can't wait until it begins tomorrow," said her daughter, Melanie Wasrud.
Air Force Appreciation Day festivities moved into full gear early Saturday as spectators started to line the parade route. Early risers were already setting their chairs along American Legion Boulevard by 8 a.m.
"We wanted to make sure we got the best spot along the parade route, so we got here early," said Doug Johnson, who was with his grandchildren, Aaron and Adam, who were excited that their father was driving a float in the parade.
Suzanne Burnett and her seven children came to this year's parade as part of the family's annual tradition. Depending on how much candy they collected, her children always agree to eat a little and donate some for the candy jars in their school classrooms. They hold onto the rest until it gets closer to Halloween, Burnett said.
Down the street, people representing different organizations, veterans groups, clubs and base agencies were putting the final touches on their parade floats. Among them was Laura Faircloth and the members of the Mountain Home ATV Club.
"We're celebrating our 10th year as a club and our 10th year riding our machines in the AFAD parade," Faircloth said. "We are the Spirit of America, and that's why we are here."
Alan Roberts from the Mountain Home Fire Department said his team was planning on having eight trucks and about 12 firefighters in this year's procession. At the same time, the department had enough vehicles and crews on standby just in case they received an emergency call.
Down the street, airmen with the 389th Fighter Squadron at the local Air Force base were donning their costumes as they prepared to step on their float. The squadron, commonly known as the Thunderbolts, or T-Bolts for short, went back to the mythological roots of ancient Greece during this year's parade, said Lt. Col. Gary Marlowe, who commands the unit.
"The thunderbolt was the preferred weapon of Zeus, and that's part of the story behind this year's 389th float," said Marlowe, whose son, Grant, came dressed as a Greek warrior.
The squadron's parade entry came complete with a chariot leading a scaled down version of Mount Olympus with Zeus standing on its summit.
Saturday's processions of vehicles and floats ran roughly the same length as previous years with a number of entries added to the roster that morning, according to Ann Taggart, who started her first year as the AFAD parade organizer. Originally expecting 100 entries, the parade lineup had swelled to 130 entries.
"I've been coming to this parade every year since 1996. I'm retired military and this day means a lot to me and my family," said Curtis Carlin.
Rachel and Shaylee Norris were having an equally great time.
"I've never seen my kids so excited or smiling as much as today," their father said.
Each of this year's parade participants had the chance to earn recognition by the judges in the reviewing stand as well as members of the local community. Ultimately, it was the Buccaneers of the 428th Fighter Squadron that swept the competition, earning the judges' choice award and top military entry along with the people's choice title.
The squadron, which trains aircrews from the Republic of Singapore air force, put together a team of volunteers that built a scaled-down pirate ship from scratch in time for last year's parade. Since then, the squadron made some additional modifications to the ship, said ME3 Anthony Kwan.
A slingshot suspended between the ship's main masts served as a unique delivery system that fired candy and treats high into the air, which then floated back to Earth by parachute, Kwan said.
But that was just the beginning. Along the parade route, two members of the squadron rolled cannons down the street. When struck from behind, the cannons fired off balls of red and blue smoke, which drew applause from the crowd.
Children like Hannah and Luke Giles enjoyed the pirate ship the most out of all the parade entries. Others like Heather Wills admitted that the miniature horses were her parade favorites, "because our cousins were in it," she said.
Following the parade, thousands of people packed into Carl Miller Park to check out all of the festivities. Many were in line for a free barbecue lunch served by a team of volunteers from the base and community.
"We're not short on volunteers. Everyone came early to pitch in," Longo said.
Others at the park spent the afternoon checking out the multitude of vendors. Many sold food and beverages while others carried trinkets and other treasures.
One that seemed to gain a lot of attention required participants to walk a tightrope suspended about two feet above a series of cushioned mats. That protective measure came in handy quite readily as individuals tried, in vain, to successfully span the short distance.
Among these adventurous souls was Kaya Teroy. She made it about a third of the way down the line as Zach Slack helped her keep her balance. But once he let go, the teen immediately lost her balance and fell.
On the other side of the park, Tech. Sgt. Harold Andrews fired off a fastball at a target in hopes of dropping Airman 1st Class Travis Whitlock into the dunk booth hosted by the base's Focus 5/6 group.
"This is my third year coming to AFAD... it's a great family event and you can see everyone is enjoying it," Andrews said.