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Reservists get sun and spotlight at Oak Harbor picnic

Cmdr. Johnny Miller, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Operation Support Center, gives three-year-old Desirae Harris a pin after presenting her and her mother Rachel Harris with certificates of appreciation at Saturday’s Military Appreciation Picnic. Desirae’s father, Petty Officer 2nd Class Desmond Harris, was also honored.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Cmdr. Johnny Miller, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Operation Support Center, gives three-year-old Desirae Harris a pin after presenting her and her mother Rachel Harris with certificates of appreciation at Saturday’s Military Appreciation Picnic. Desirae’s father, Petty Officer 2nd Class Desmond Harris, was also honored.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Hundreds turned out for the ninth annual Military Appreciation Picnic at Windjammer Park in Oak Harbor.

The event, held Saturday, Sept. 11, included hot food, games, a climbing wall and, of course, a lot of attention to military personnel. The focus and honor this year went to reservists attached to Whidbey Island Naval Operation Support Center, or NOSC.

Unlike most Navy personnel who deploy and come home in large groups, reservists are mobilized on an individual basis and usually don’t receive the pomp and grandeur of ceremonies when they return home. After being away for nine months at a time, they are picked up at the airport by their spouses, and that’s it, said Cmdr. Johnny Miller, commanding officer for NOSC.

“This is a chance for them to be recognized too,” he said.

One of those honored during Saturday’s picnic was Petty Officer 2nd Class Desmond Harris, who returned from a nine-month stint in Kuwait in August. While he was mobilized, he took on many extra duties, which earned him a promotion and the notice of his commanding officers.

Both the picnic and being singled out for his exceptional service was unexpected and a much better way to come home, he said.

“It was great,” Harris said. “The last time I came back, nothing really happened.”

The families of reservists were also recognized. Desmond’s wife, Rachel Harris, and three-year-old daughter, Desirae Harris, received awards of appreciation. Rachel said the acknowledgement was much appreciated and is happy Desmond is finally home. After missing out on Desirae’s birthday and a few of her learning words, it’s been great to see them catchup and reconnect.

Valerie Phillips, whose husband Jason Phillips is on detachment, attended the picnic with her two children: Jackson, 9, and Annabelle, 5. They have lived in several military communities, and the level of support seen in Oak Harbor is rare. People here do a lot to make them feel welcome and appreciated, she said. The picnic is just one of many examples, but is one that’s especially enjoyable.

“We have a ball every year,” Phillips said.

The Military Appreciation Picnic is put on by the Oak Harbor Navy League, the city, the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and the Navy’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation division. Beth Munns, a city councilwoman and founder of the picnic, said the event was started to honor military personnel and families like the Harrises and Phillips.

It’s also a chance for local public service organizations to connect with the community. For example, members of the Oak Harbor Fire Department attended the picnic armed with free bicycle helmets.

“We’re really trying to push to have the kids safe when they ride around,” Munns said.

Having started the picnic, Munns said she feels a special pride to see the event not only still going but thriving. But it hasn’t been a single effort. Dozens of local organizations, businesses, and individuals donated time and money to make the event a reality.

“We couldn’t do this without the help of the community,” Munns said.

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