OCEANSIDE — Operation Appreciation honored active duty military and their families May 15 with a barbecue lunch, live entertainment and a carnival area for the children. Close to 4,000 attended the Armed Forces Day event.
Jocelyn Cruz and her two sons enjoyed the day while her husband served overseas with the U.S. Marine Corps. “My husband is in Guam right now,” Cruz said.
Juan Ponce, U.S. Marine Corps, was at the event for the first time. Last year he was deployed and could not attend with his wife and children. This year they were all together.
Operation Appreciation has been celebrated for nine years. It began in 2002 following Sept. 11.
Everyone was thinking of a way to give back and say thank you to the military, David Nydegger, Oceanside Chamber of Commerce CEO, said. Operation Appreciation is Oceanside’s way to give back.
Nydegger and Kevin Leap of North County Times thought up the annual event that is sponsored by the city
of Oceanside, Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, North County Times and Armed Services YMCA.
In addition to free food and amusement rides for military families, the community is invited to enjoy food and carnival rides for purchase. The event is geared to bring the community together, George Brown, Armed Services YMCA executive director, said.
The Armed Services YMCA sponsors the children’s area. There are giant inflatable slides, a climbing wall, and mechanical rides for the kids. Armed Services YMCA staff was on hand for face painting, washable tattoos and parent information on YMCA programs.
Each year the event evolves, Nydegger said. The first year there was a petting zoo and multiple food vendors serving lunch to military families. Both ideas had their drawbacks. “A petting zoo is not something you want to do on the beach,” Nydegger said. Animals, sand and hot sun did not mix well, and food served by multiple vendors began to run out before all families were served. Today event operations are streamlined.
Yearly planning starts in October to organize the event, iron out details, and make the day better than last year’s celebration.
“The key is volunteers,” Nydegger said. There are 100 volunteers, many who show up every year to help out. “Seeing their faces,” is the reason Liz Rhea comes back to volunteer every year. She has served as the event chair and continues to volunteer annually. Rhea is especially impressed with retired military who volunteer yearly at Operation Appreciation. “You can’t get them to stop serving,” Rhea said.