Navy League’s 20th annual picnic celebrates military, veterans
— Created September 7, 2022 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
All active-duty military personnel, veterans and their families on Whidbey Island are invited to enjoy a special “thank you” from the community Saturday.
The 20th annual Military Appreciation Picnic will be held from noon to 4 p.m. next to the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce along State Route 20 in Oak Harbor. The event is put on by the Oak Harbor Area Council of the Navy League of the United States and the Chamber of Commerce.
All are invited to enjoy free barbecue, hotdogs, various side dishes and drinks plus live music, kids’ games and good ole’ family fun.
“The main thing is to show community appreciation for the military – veterans, active-duty and their families,” said Dave Johnson, planning committee chair for the event. “We’ve done it for 20 years, except for the last two, due to the pandemic.”
Johnson said the picnic is all about the community showing appreciation for the military on Whidbey Island, and it takes help from the whole community to pull the event together.
“This event obviously centers around the picnic, which is provided by the community,” he said. “There are lots of volunteers, too, from Daughters of the American Revolution, both local groups and from Clallam County; the Lions; and the Sea Cadets, who are a vital part of what we do each year. The NJROTC (Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) will have some involvement as well.
“Along with that, the community will have booths where they will share what it is they are about,” Johnson continued. “Many of them are nonprofits. Many others may not have a booth, but are supporting the event in a variety of ways, such as through contributions of dollars or items for the picnic.”
While a picnic is generally all about the food, Johnson said there will also be some special activities for kids.
“Home Depot will bring its kids’ workshop to the event and some of the nonprofit groups will have activities for kids,” he said. “Plus, some of the nonprofits that will be there, their clientele is young people, so it helps to show what the community has to offer as it relates to military families.”
There will also be live music if the food and games aren’t enough to please the crowd.
“We’ll have live music from the Full Spectrum Band,” said Johnson. “They do classic rock and roll.”
While it may seem unusual in some parts of the country to have a community picnic in appreciation of the military, that is not the case in Oak Harbor, according to Johnson.
“One of the things in the past I have heard in talking to people in the community and on base, other bases don’t have the same level of community support Oak Harbor offers,” he said. “And one of the reasons I find it personally fulfilling is being very impressed with what the military – the Navy, in this case – is doing. Letting people know what they are doing is vital, plus it’s very meaningful.”
In past years, attendance has hovered around 1,000 people for the Military Appreciation Picnic. Organizers are looking to increase that number substantially. Since there has not been a picnic for the past two years, Johnson said an extra effort is being made to get the word out to new active-duty personnel at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, in hopes of boosting this year’s attendance.
“We certainly hope we can meet some of the past years in terms of participation,” Johnson said. “We’re doing extra PR out at the base and we’re working with the Command Master Chief and the Skipper’s wife to get the word out. I’ve been delivering information and posters to a variety of places in town. So we’re hoping to get attendance back up to what it was, if not even better.”
While this free community event is being held for active-duty, veterans and their families, in a community with so many veterans, Johnson said it’s not surprising many of those working to put on this event are veterans themselves.
“I think it’s important that many of the people helping to support the Military Appreciation Picnic are veterans,” he said. “A lot of members of the Navy League are veterans, so they have a personal understanding of what it means to be part of the military and moving to different places. And the community appreciates the fact this is being done and is very receptive to the idea.”
So not only does the 20th annual Military Appreciation Picnic give thanks to Whidbey’s active-duty personnel and veterans, it also makes for a great way to say “Welcome to Oak Harbor.”