Lacey’s Military Family Day promotes sense of community

For 2-year-old Joseph Knight, Military Family Day is an adventure, a day when he can clamber over Stryker vehicles assisted by soldiers in uniform.

He was joined Saturday by other children scrambling in and out of hatches, and examining different gadgets and levers.

For Joseph’s parents, Lacey residents Ben and Crystal Knight, it’s a reminder that they’re welcome in their community as a military family.

“It’s not very often that we’re pampered and appreciated like this,” Crystal Knight said. “It’s nice to see that there are so many organizations and companies here to support us.”

The support and sense of community is especially important since the Knights recently welcomed a second child, 2-week-old Lillyanna.

And that’s the goal of Military Family Day, an annual celebration planned by the Hawks Prairie Rotary Club, said Andrew Oczkewicz, co-chairman of the event.

“The military is so important to our community,” Oczkewicz said. “We just want to give thanks for everything they do. They move here, and a lot of them stay here.”

About 4,000 people attend the event each year, which costs about $6,000, Oczkewicz said. It was initially hosted in the Walmart parking lot, but the celebration outgrew the venue about five years ago.

Now, Military Family Day is hosted at Cabela’s on Gateway Boulevard, and the company donates about 2,000 hot dogs to the cause each year. The food, which is given away, is cooked up by city of Lacey employees, police officers and elected officials.

“It’s an awesome event because so many of our citizens are military or retired military,” said Councilman Jeff Gadman. “Their spouses work in our community, their children go to school here, and when our military folk retire, they become our business owners.”

“Just look how happy everyone is. It’s a happy event,” he added.

Military Family Day also features booths sponsored by various organizations and companies, bounce houses, BB gun target practice and a “candy drop,” in which 20,000 pieces of candy fall from a helicopter.

It’s this sense of community that prompted the Knights to stay in Lacey when Ben Knight retired from the Army and joined the Army National Guard instead of returning to their home state of California.

“It’s a great event and all of us, especially Joseph, are happy to be here,” Crystal Knight said.