07/10/05 — Event at park conveys gratitude to military

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Event at park conveys gratitude to military

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on July 10, 2005 2:00 AM

Turnout for Saturday's Military Appreciation Com-munity Event at Herman Park was not what organizers had hoped or Mayor Al King thought was appropriate.

About 200 people were gathered around the gazebo at 11 a.m. as local dignitaries paid tribute to Seymour Johnson airmen, other servicemen and their families. Dozens more were using nearby playground equipment or checking out informational booths.

But King would have liked to have seen the park full.

"This is a very special day," King said. "I'm disappointed by the number of people who haven't come out to say thanks to the people who defend us and allow us to gather here in freedom and safety."

But Col. Mike Holmes, commander of the 4th Fighter Wing, assured the mayor that the airmen feel supported, not just Saturday but every day.

"This community understands, more than any other I've known, that it's not just about the airmen but also their families," Holmes said.

Wayne County residents welcome the Air Force families into their churches and their neighborhoods, he said. They assist spouses during deployments. The airmen cannot help but see the bumper stickers, magnets and ribbons in support of the military.

"Those little things add up," Holmes said.

Col. Paul J. Sykes, commander of the 916th Air Refueling Wing, agreed.

"Goldsboro was named a top 10 city in 1993, but I think it's been a top 10 city for about 250 years," he said. "Thanks for all the support you've given us."

For the most part, the gratitude ran the other way.

U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. said that the base's success so far in the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process shows that the Pentagon "understands the importance of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to the natural security of America."

Jones recalled how, as a new member of the U.S. House, he had received an unexpected visit from General T. Michael Moseley.

"He said, 'I just want to shake the hand of the congressman who has the jewel of the Air Force in his district,'" Jones said.

N.C. Sen. Fred Smith, of Clayton, noted that the N.C. General Assembly had worked hard to assist all the N.C. bases through the BRAC process. "I'm happy this has happened for Wayne County and I look forward to continued prosperity for the county," Smith said.

N.C. Rep. Louis Pate, of Mount Olive, thanked the airmen for their willingness to endanger their lives to protect not only Americans but people around the world.

"We have to defend freedom wherever it's challenged," he said.

Wayne County Commis-sioner Andy Anderson urged area residents to make a point of saying "thank you" to both current servicemen
and veterans. And City Councilman Bob Waller confessed that he "still gets a thrill whenever I see the planes pass over."

Mayor King said that no other base can match Seymour Johnson's "dynamic duo," the 4th Fighter Wing, which King always describes as "the greatest fighter wing on Planet Earth," and the 916th, which has an important role in in-flight refueling.

"If you see anyone who wasn't here today, I want you to chastise them a bit," King said. "The next time we do this, we want to see the park full because our military deserves it."

Many of the attendees stayed through the afternoon for musical entertainment, including the Malpass Family, Dakota Rain and the Jackson Sisters. The event was organized by Curtis Media Group, including WGBR.