Military appreciation picnic welcomes past, present and future service members

Attendees of the Military Appreciation: Past, Present and Future Picnic prepare for a boat ride on Woods Reservoir. The picnic, held Oct. 20 at the Arnold Lakeside Center, was open to retired military, veterans and active-duty services members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

Attendees of the Military Appreciation: Past, Present and Future Picnic prepare for a boat ride on Woods Reservoir. The picnic, held Oct. 20 at the Arnold Lakeside Center, was open to retired military, veterans and active-duty services members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

Guests of the Military Appreciation: Past, Present and Future picnic take part in a buggy ride. The Oct. 20 picnic at Arnold Lakeside Center was open to retired military, veterans and active-duty services members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

Guests of the Military Appreciation: Past, Present and Future picnic take part in a buggy ride. The Oct. 20 picnic at Arnold Lakeside Center was open to retired military, veterans and active-duty services members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

Col. Eric Leshinsky speaks to guests during the Military Appreciation: Past, Present and Future Picnic. The Oct. 20 picnic at the Arnold Lakeside Center was open to retired military, veterans and active-duty service members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

Col. Eric Leshinsky speaks to guests during the Military Appreciation: Past, Present and Future Picnic. The Oct. 20 picnic at the Arnold Lakeside Center was open to retired military, veterans and active-duty service members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. -- Retired military, veterans and active-duty service members from the area were recently invited to an afternoon picnic of food, music, fun and comradery at Arnold Air Force Base as a way to say “thank you” for their service.

The Military Appreciation: Past, Present and Future Picnic was Oct. 20 at the Arnold Lakeside Center. During the event, guests were provided a free meal, got to take in a performance by musician Eric Heatherly, and had the opportunity to participate in activities and games, boat rides, horse-drawn buggy rides, corn hole and ladder golf.
Barbara Stewart, director of the Arnold AFB Services Office, said a military appreciation picnic has been held at the ALC for more than two decades, but this year’s event marked the first under the “Past, Present and Future” banner.

The Air Force Sergeants Association started the picnic, and until this year, the annual picnic at the ALC was held specifically for veterans and patients from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in nearby Murfreesboro, according to Stewart.

As Arnold AFB contractor and overall military enrollment declined, the AFSA was finding it increasingly difficult to complete the “legwork” necessary to prepare for the picnic.

Not wanting to see the event fall by the wayside, AEDC team members in the Services and Personnel offices put their heads together and discussed ways to keep the appreciation event going, Stewart said. Their idea was to invite retired military and veterans to represent the past, active-duty military to represent the present and the families of these groups to represent the future.

“The idea we talked about was food, fellowship and fun,” Stewart said. “The active duty could talk to the retirees and vets, the retirees and vets could get to talk to the active duty and get that fellowship going.”

Stewart commended the efforts of civilian volunteers and volunteers from Team AEDC and the local community, such as the Arnold Community Council, all of whom she said helped make the event possible. AFSA also provided a $1,500 donation for the food served during the event.

“AFSA is still integral because they are providing funding for the food we’re putting out,” Stewart said.

The event was well-received by those in attendance. Tom Mowbray, a member of the Gold Star 78 American Legion Riders of Manchester who served in the U.S. Navy from 1965-74, was complimentary of the picnic.

“They did a nice job,” Mowbray said. “It was very well put together. I don’t think anybody left hungry.”

Al Haas, also a member of the Gold Star 78 American Legion Riders who served in the U.S. Army from 1985-2014, said the event “keeps getting better every year” and he appreciated that the picnic allowed patients in the VA to get out of the facility for a while and meet fellow service members.

“They get to see other people,” Haas said, “and you’ve got retired vets from the area out here. It’s good.”

Robert Brown, who served in the Navy from 1972-75, said he appreciated that the day’s festivities were open to all branches of the military and that the event allowed its attendees to “come together as one military.”

Irish Downes, a Lewisburg resident who served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Air Force from 1962-67, also offered praise for the event.
“I think it’s a great idea, not only for the disabled veterans but for the non-disabled vets,” Downes said. “I’ll definitely come back next year.”
With this year’s Military Appreciation picnic now in the books, organizers have begun looking forward to next year’s event.
“We’ll continue doing it next year,” Stewart said.