Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve North Okaloosa County residents’ quality of life.

CRESTVIEW — The Military Appreciation Recognition Celebration to salute service members and their families was held on Saturday at Spanish Trail Park on Stillwell Boulevard.

The event is sponsored every year on Armed Forces Day by the Military Appreciation Recognition Celebration Inc., a non-profit that raises funds for the occasion.

This year’s celebration was also held in memory of former MARC President and founder of the event Bob Lynn and Treasurer Retired Brigadier General Thomas Mark Stogsdill.

The event included games, free food, music, a petting zoo, and horseback rides.  Many military groups were represented at the Recognition Celebration.

Ben Griffith, commander of the 711 Special Operations Squadron at Duke Field, was there with his two young sons, Cai and Finn. 

“The mission of the SOS is to work with the Foreign Internal Defense Civil Affairs Unit, who work with agencies to help our partner nations with defense and development. We go all over the world to help legitimize foreign governments in the eyes of their civilian populations,” Griffith said. The 711 SOS is also part of the 919 Special Operations Wing, a reserve unit whose membership comprises mostly soldiers from Crestview.

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation was also represented at the celebration. The foundation has been in existence for 37 years. After the Iran Hostage Crisis, there was a rescue attempt of the hostages and the helicopter crashed. The United States lost eight Special Operations soldiers, five of whom were from Hurlburt, and three Marines. Seventeen children were left behind.

“The foundation was started to ensure that every child of a Special Operations individual in any branch who is killed in the line of duty has an opportunity to attend college. We cover the tuition and all expenses. There are over 1,200 kids being supported now,” said George Ferkes, U.S. Air Force Retired Colonel and Director of Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

The Eglin EOD was there with a response vehicle, a bomb suit and a robot. The 919th Special Operations Forces from Duke Field was also represented as well as the Crestview chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Coast Guard was there with a search-and-rescue boat.

The Emerald Coast Young Marines simulated the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima during World War II. The Young Marines include boys and girls from the ages of 8 until the end of high school. The group teaches leadership, discipline, teamwork and living a drug-free life.

The Military Appreciation Recognition Celebrations group handed out American flags, pins and fans, and sold raffle tickets for door prizes. The North Okaloosa Community Band played patriotic music. The Crestview Fire Department raised a huge American flag at the entrance to the park.