Story by Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

CAMP SWIFT, Texas- The sounds of local bands, helicopters and children's laughter rose up into a bright blue sky as the military and local communities came together during the 3rd Annual Oktoberfest here at Camp Swift on Saturday, Oct. 17. Highlights of the event included military demonstrations, local vendors, musicians, children's activities and the Volksmarch, a non-competitive distance walk through the woods in the Camp Swift training areas.

During the opening ceremonies, Texas Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga welcomed the citizens of the surrounding cities, as well as Soldiers and families. Stressing the close relationship the residents of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville have with the Soldiers training at Camp Swift, Mayorga stated it simply and clearly, "we are part of the community and the community is part of us."

Bastrop Mayor Terry Orr made it clear the city of Bastrop supports the Texas Military Forces. We have "been endeavoring to become known as a 'soldier-friendly town'," said Orr, by working with Camp Swift and the local chamber of commerce to welcome the local military presence. 

Highlighting some of the equipment Texas Military Forces use during both peace- and war-time operations, Soldiers from the 143rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment performed an airborne demonstration, jumping from Texas Army National Guard Chinook helicopters. After two Apache attack helicopters did a low-altitude fly-by, more Soldiers from the 143rd LRS, completed an "air assault" to deliver a walking stick to General Mayorga, kicking off the annual Volksmarch. 

For some, this was the closest they had ever been to the helicopters. "This is great," said Shandra Wilcox, an Austin resident. Her seven-year-old son, Jaris, "is helicopter-crazy," said Wilcox. For Jaris, the "chance to see [the helicopters] up close was just a great thing for him and all he could talk about on the way here." 

Supporting the local community and the military in a slightly different fashion, the animals from the Capital of Texas Zoo in Cedar Creek attracted adults and kids alike. Mo, the camel, was a striking sight under the oak trees and many children bravely held out pellets of feed in their hands to feed him. "This is a labor of love," said Carl Smith, Mo's handler. The zoo comes out every year to support the military "because it's a great organization." 

For others, the chance to take a look at a bit of history, both in the Texas Military Forces museum displays and in Camp Swift itself, was a big draw. "My uncle was in the Army in Vietnam," said Lorena Marquez, "but he lives in California and I never really got to see the stuff he used, so it's neat to be able to look at all the old equipment and think that he might have used some of it."

"I can remember coming out here at Swift for training, years ago," said Max Nelson, a Texas National Guard veteran. "I don't remember having this much fun, though," he said, "since I think it was raining the last time I was out here."

Vendors and informational booths lined the walkways, distributing both products and information.

"This is way more stuff available for Soldiers and their families than when I was in," said Mr. Nelson. "I learned more walking around here today than I thought I would."

"We understand the strength our Soldiers provide," said Mayor Marc Holm, from the city of Elgin. "We are very proud to partner with the military personnel at Camp Swift," he said. "We are a family and we want to make sure we all have the same closeness and respect for each other. We know it's going to be a great annual event."