NATICK — Armed Forces Day often slips under the radar, overshadowed by holidays such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
For John Harlow, Chief of Public Affairs at Natick Soldier Systems Center, Armed Forces Day is an important day to acknowledge the men and women in uniform who risk everything to serve their country. The day is also be a chance for the labs to reach out to the community, and show the people of Natick what the labs do at its first Armed Forces Day celebration on May 18.
The event, open to the public, will include a 5-kilometer run, installation tours, and military displays from the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
"Armed Forces Day is meant to be a day to honor Americans serving in the military," said Lt. Col. Frank Sobchak, U.S. Army Garrison Natick commander, in a written statement. "This year we will help celebrate that event by opening our doors to the public to show what we at Natick do for our Armed Forces – some of the research, development and engineering that is performed to make their lives safer and help them accomplish their missions more easily and effectively."
According to a statement on the labs' website, the day will begin with the 5K trail run at 8:30 a.m., followed by an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., attendees may visit military displays and take installation tours. A closing ceremony will be held at 2 p.m.
"It's a chance for us to show the public what we do," said Harlow, regarding the open house, in an interview. "When you think about what we do here, it impacts every single soldier in the Army, one way or the other. Here's a chance to show the taxpayers, who fund our research, who fund our salaries, fund out equipment, what we're doing. And showing that we're good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars."
Harlow said about 120 participated in the first 5K held last year.
"It's a chance to build camaraderie between us and the community," said Harlow, who served in the Army from1988 to 1992, and again from 1993 to 1997, and is a Desert Storm Veteran. Harlow cited a two-day antiterrorism/emergency management exercise at the labs that involved local police and other first responders as evidence of a good working relationship between the town and the base.
In a statement on the labs' website, Lt. Steven Pagliarulo of the Natick Police Department said that the exercise served an important purpose for his officers: "It's imperative that we train together and become familiar with each other's protocols. Also, we want our officers to be familiar with the base itself. Some of our newer officers have never been here, so it's important to have face-to-face contact."
Visitors will get a peak at various areas of the labs, such as the Doriot Climatic Chambers, an indoor facility that can simulate a variety of climate and weather conditions. Other highlights will include U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, shelter technology by Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, and a display by Natick Soldier, Research, Development and Engineering Center.
National Guard displays will include infantry equipment; a howitzer; engineering equipment; an armored security vehicle; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear equipment; logistics equipment; a field litter ambulance; civil support team equipment; firefighter apparatus; explosive ordnance disposal equipment; water purification equipment; and light medium tactical vehicles.
"The Guard and Reserve provide an unbelievable service in combat these days," said Harlow. "It's a chance for them to show their neighbors, 'This is what we've done. Here's the service we provide for our nation.'"
He added that it was National Guard soldiers assigned to the 1060th Transportation Company of Framingham who ran toward the bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon to assist victims in the midst of chaos. "They ran right into it, started trying to save lives," he said.
"If you combine the active duty Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and then the Reserve and National Guard, that's just over three and a half million people. That's one percent. One percent raises their right hand and swears to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. One percent will put their life on the line without thinking about it. Here's a chance to meet the one percent," Harlow said.
Registration for the 5K is $15 in advance, or $20 the day of the race. Registration forms can be downloaded online.
For more information e-mail NatickArmy5K@gmail.com.
Proceeds for the run go to the Family Morale and Recreation Fund.
John Swinconeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.