EGLIN AFB — Counting off a list of area towns and cities — Crestview, Baker, DeFuniak Springs, Niceville, Valparaiso, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Navarre and others — Col. Patrick Colloton, commander of the U.S. Army's 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), kicked off this year's Community Day under a sunny Monday morning sky at the group's compound near Crestview.
"Where we live here, where we've been since 2010, 2011 ... these are some of the greatest communities that we could ever live in," Colloton told the area residents, civic leaders, elected officials and former and current 7th Group troops gathered Monday to get an up-close look at how the 7th Group trains and operates today.
Community Day kicks off the 7th Group's Red Empire Week, which unites current 7th Group troops with its former soldiers and culminates in a Friday ceremony at the group's Memorial Wall, which includes the names of all 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) troops lost in combat and in training accidents.
"I just know that we're blessed every day to have the people that we have," Colloton told the hundreds of 7th Group troops, families and others gathered for this year's Community Day, referencing the people who live and work in the area where 7th Group troops also live and work. Colloton expressed particular appreciation for the area's law-enforcement personnel and educators.
"It does our heart good to know that when our soldiers are deployed, for six months or more somewhere, their families are living in these communities with some of the best schools, and some of the best community support that there is possible, and that has not failed us once," said Colloton.
"This is one day for us to just take a day — we're going to take this whole week, in fact — and give a little back to the community," Colloton said.
On Monday, what the community got back from the 7th Group was a parachuting demonstration from the U.S. Special Operations Paracommandos parachute team, as four members floated swiftly from thousands of feet in the sky carrying the flags of the United States, U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
And while Community Day is designed to allow 7th Group troops to interact with the community, the reverse is also true, according to Ryan Price of the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee.
"It's a chance to see them as people" rather than just soldiers, Price said, "to share laughs and smiles."
Also at Community Day was Andrew Rencich, an Army veteran who spent eight years of his 14-year military career with the 7th Group.
Now a Crestview City Council member, Rencich says one of his goals is to further build the relationship between the city and the 7th Group, "to make sure we support them, and they support us."