By: Erin Wilmer
It was May 1989, I was 19 and checking into my first duty station. I can remember feeling alone and scared. After completing the check-in process, I walk into my barracks dorm that would be my home for the next
four years. In the middle of the room was a twin bed and the walls were white and bare. As I dropped my seabag on the floor, an overwhelming sadness came over me and I began to cry, I felt completely ALONE.
I began to think about the holidays that I would be missing that year. See, I grew up in a very large family where every holiday, we came together from all around the United States. We laughed, we fussed, we ate, we hugged, we kissed. My great-grandfather would pray these long elaborate grace prayers while everyone’s mouths were watering waiting anxiously to get to the food. I thought of him and laughed through my tears.
I can remember that first Thanksgiving away from home. The community where I was stationed sponsored a Thanksgiving Dinner for us single Sailors. It was 30 of us on my bus and we rode to a medium-size church in the city. I remember driving into the parking lot and seeing all the cars. I remember walking into the church doors and the smell of turkey and dressing and cakes and pies filled my nostrils. It wasn’t home but it was pretty close! As we entered the room, we were met with hugs and smiles. This community took time away from their families to make sure we were not alone for the holidays. It is a feeling I will never forget. I felt love. I felt appreciation. I felt important.
When I was asked to explain why I am so passionate about our Military Appreciation Festival and Military Council, my only response is “I’ve been there.” I have been that single service member away from home for the first time. I have been a married service member on isolated duty away from my spouse. I have been a married service member with children and no spouse for support. I have leaned on several communities throughout my 24 years of service for support whether it was emotionally, financially physically, or spiritually. I have belonged to several community churches, PTAs, gyms, and charitable organizations, I could go on and on. Some of those communities and churches have become lifelong friends that I visit still to this day.
Our Perdido Key area serves our military community and families without question or hesitation. From the holiday dinners hosted by the Flora-Bama, to the food handouts every month by our local churches, to the
local charities that support military families, and so much more. We are a community that appreciates our military service members and their families and we prove it year-round with our actions. What better way for a community to join forces to say “We Appreciate Our Armed Forces and Thank you for your service,” but by having a festival where our military families can come to play, to eat, to compete, to win prizes completely FREE! In my opinion, there is no better way and nobody does it better than the Perdido Key Area Chamber of Commerce by bringing all of the communities together for one combined event that represents a Great Big “THANK YOU!” I am honored to “Give back” in this capacity because I’ve been there and I have been forever changed and touched by the selfless acts of generosity shown to me and my family over my years of service!
We Need Your Help!
If you would like to “give back” or show your support, then get involved with our military council. We meet the last Tuesday of every month at 12385 Sorrento Road, Suite D2, Pensacola FL 32507. Contact Erin Wilmer or the Perdido Chamber for more information.