By Karen S. Spangler, Managing Editor, Ho’okele
Military Appreciation Month (MAM) is a time when Hawaii, along with communities across the nation, pay tribute to the service and dedication of the military.
Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month in 1999 to ensure the nation was given the opportunity to publically demonstrate their appreciation for the sacrifices and successes made by service members – past and present.
A combined base population of about 66,300 people, including almost 55,000 active duty Navy and Air Force service members, selected Reserves and retirees, and family members, live in the islands.
Military Appreciation Month presents opportunities for the community to thank service members and their families, but it also gives the military a chance to show its appreciation to the people of Hawaii and is considered by civilian and military leaders as a winwin for everyone.
“During Military Appreciation Month and really throughout the year, the people of Hawaii show they understand and value why we’re here – to protect the homeland, to build partnerships, and to provide global security – not only here in Hawaii but also forward-deployed from here to Indo-Asia-Pacific. A good example is USS Hopper’s upcoming return to homeport after eight months on deployment,” said Rear Adm. Rick Williams, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific.
He talked about the important connection that Navy Sailors in Hawaii enjoy as part of the local culture.
“Soon the men and women of USS Hopper, along with their families and together with all of us, can enjoy the spirit of aloha during Military Appreciation Month. And while USS Lake Erie and USS O’Kane continue on their deployments, their families can enjoy the deep appreciation of a grateful community,” he said.
“Great cultural, educational and recreational opportunities such as those provided here in Hawaii improve quality of life that makes for better quality of service,” Williams said.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued a proclamation in honor of the contributions of the military in Hawaii.
“All branches of the armed forces are represented in Hawaii, creating a unique relationship with the state, which is important to Hawaii’s economic vitality and security. I encourage all citizens of the Aloha State to join … in saluting the men and women of our armed services, not just this month but all year long. These brave individuals carry forth the virtues of duty, honor, service and selflessness that we can never truly repay,” Abercrombie said.
Active duty service members not only play an important role in their service and protection for the country but actively reach out to the local community and participate in numerous projects. For example, service members volunteer in the schools in such areas as reading programs, tutoring, and help with painting and cleanup efforts
In partnership with the City and County of Honolulu and other agencies, Sailors and Airmen help with cleanup efforts and helping to rid the island of invasive species. They are involved in the cleanup of the Pearl Harbor Bike Path, helping the nature conservancy with the eradication of invasive species at Pouhala Marsh, and various beach cleanup projects.
Those efforts were recognized by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
“Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, National Guard and Navy service members, civilian staff, and their loved ones are an integral part of the diverse rainbow of our islands. Hawaii residents rest easy knowing that every branch of the world’s most powerful military stands guard at our doorstep,” Caldwell said.
“While Hawaii Military Appreciation Month reminds us to recognize the members of the armed forces stationed in Hawaii, we should show our appreciation every day to those who sacrifice so much to protect and defend our nation and way of life,” Caldwell said.
Military service members volunteer, not only with their commands but individually, with such organizations as Habitat for Humanity, USO, Hawaii Foodbank, and Meals on Wheels to help make a difference in the lives of many.
They also actively participate in cultural events in the community such as the annual Merrie Monarch Festival and makahiki celebrations which honor important aspects of the local culture. The Navy has been invited to participate in the Merrie Monarch Festival every year since 1964. Again this year, the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band proudly marched down the streets of Hilo in the Merrie Monarch Floral Parade.
U.S. Sen. from Hawaii Mazie Hirono pledged her support to the military along with her thanks for their contributions.
“With Hawaii serving as the gateway to the Asia-Pacific and home to the U.S. Pacific Command, our state is home to thousands of men and women who keep watch over half the globe.
“As a member of the Senate Committees on Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs, I will continue to fight to ensure that current and former members of the military receive the support and benefits they have earned, especially as many transition back to civilian life,” Hirono said.
Wherever the nation’s servicemen and women go, fellow Americans and citizens from foreign nations reach out, expressing appreciation for their service.
Some Hawaii-based service members talked about how thankful they are for the gestures of appreciation they have received.
“The best experiences I have had so far have been at airports. There have been a number of times people have thanked me for my service. Those ‘thank yous’ I have received have boosted my motivation and pride in my uniform,” said Airman 1st Class Sean Brannan, assigned to 535th Airlift Squadron.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham, assigned to Navy Public Affairs Support Element, Hawaii Det., shared her experiences in Okinawa.
“A Japanese woman, who owned a small restaurant in Okinawa, knew that being in the military away from family and friends was tough, thanked us for our service, and said that we’re always welcome in their restaurant,” Fulgham said.
U.S. Congressman from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard, who is also a fellow veteran, praised the commitment of America’s military.
“In every generation, American service members have raised their hands to fight and sacrifice greatly in the defense of our nation. Today, our islands are home to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coasties who answer the call to service every single day,” Gabbard said.
“They are an elite community, making up less than one percent of Americans who raise their hand and volunteer to serve and to uphold and defend the very democratic ideals upon which our country was founded.
“As a fellow veteran, I understand their sacrifice, am awed by their selflessness, and inspired by their resolve. The future of our nation depends on the selfless contributions of these true servant-leaders,” she said.
“Mahalo nui loa to all those who have served and continue to serve. Your grateful nation honors your sacrifices and commitment,” Gabbard said.
The admiral stressed the importance of community support.
“We are grateful for the strong support our service members and their families receive from the Chamber of Commerce and Navy League. These organizations, and the people of Hawaii, help us stay the course and operate forward knowing that our families are in good hands back home. Thank you for all the warm aloha,” Williams said.