San Diego Union Tribune | May 14, 2009

Appreciation day includes free lunch for military personnel

Although it’s been said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” the city of Oceanside believes an exception should be made at least once a year for the men and women who defend the country.

Active-duty military personnel and their families are invited to a free lunch, provided by Hunter Steakhouse, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Oceanside Pier Amphitheater.

The lunch is part of the eighth annual Operation Appreciation, an all-day event to thank the troops and their families for their service and sacrifice.

“We get a lot of recognition inside the military for what we do on a day-to-day basis from our commanders,” said event chairman and retired Marine Chip Dykes. “It’s very nice to hear those same accolades coming from the local civilian community in a large way.”

The event, sponsored by the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, the city and the Armed Services YMCA, will include live music, military displays, and carnival rides and activities for children.

All activities are free to military families. Lunch will be available for purchase for nonmilitary attendees. Wrist bands for the carnival rides are available for civilian children for $10.

Opening ceremonies begin at 11 a.m. with a presentation by the Oceanside Fire Department Honor Guard.

Participants can arrive at 7 a.m. to watch the arrival of a Navy hovercraft, which transports troops, vehicles and equipment from ship to shore. Free tours of the craft will be available until it departs at 5 p.m.

Lunch will be served by volunteers and military leaders from Camp Pendleton.

The annual event usually draws between 5,000 and 8,000 people, including 4,000 Marines and their family members, event coordinator Bianca Wagner said.

“We know a lot of service members are deployed, so if there’s a grandparent, aunt, uncle or sister taking care of the kids, they can come down, too. All they have to do is bring their ID cards,” Wagner said.

Sponsors will offer free gifts to service members and information about free or low-cost services available to them.

More than 100 volunteers, business owners and members of local service organizations help with the event each year, including members of the teen Young Marines educational program.

“When you ask for volunteers for an event like this, the outpouring from the public is incredible,” Dykes said.

-By Pat Sherman