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Air show to highlight this weekend’s veterans tribute

By Staff | Jan 27, 2012

The Cost of Freedom Tribute and American Heroes Air Show continues today and Sunday at the Lee County Sports Complex.

The Traveling Vietnam Wall and other memorial war displays will be on view all day today while the all-helicopters air show is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A group Naturalization Ceremony is set for 11 a.m.

On Sunday, an Open Chapel Worship Service will be held at 10:30 a.m. and a Closing Ceremony, complete with a Color Retrieval and Taps, at noon will conclude the four-day tribute dedicated to “honor, respect and remember” veterans.

The event opened Wednesday with a Tribute Escort Ride for the wall; setup and various patriotic performances took place Thursday.

“We had a huge turnout yesterday,” said Donna Gerber, one of the event organizers, on Friday.

“The wall is beautiful,” she added. “We had a garden club come out and decorate it.”

The flowers and wreaths were donated by local businesses. Businesses also made possible the display of helicopters and public safety participation that will highlight today’s events, according to Lee County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Bryan Smith, the local organizer for the air show.

Twenty helicopters from a variety of agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, Lee County Emergency Medical Services, Mosquito Control and the U.S. military will be on view as will some from private schools, said Smith, a pilot with the Sheriff’s Office.

“The whole point of the show is so the community can see the equipment up close and talk to the pilots and the crews and ask the questions they want answers to,” Smith said. “They can get the facts about what helicopters do and how they are used.”

In addition to the helicopters, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office will have representatives from all of its specialty units, including SWAT, K-9, Bomb Squad and Marine, on hand to answer questions, he said. Various fire departments are sending personnel and will have equipment on display. Some agencies are sending recruiters and information on public safety careers and certification programs also will be available.

This is the second year for the event in Lee County.

Last year, 5,000 – 6,000 people came out to the view the helicopters and talk to personnel.

“We weren’t expecting that,” Smith said, adding it was a good turnout for a first-time event that had limited publicity.

Organizers are hoping for at least as many this year and are prepared to handle a much larger crowd.

Also highlighting today’s scheduled activities will be the Naturalization Ceremony scheduled for 11 a.m.

Approximately 50 people are expected to be sworn in as U.S. citizens.

“They’re coming from as far away as Tampa,” Smith said.

The wall and memorial displays, the air show and the public ceremony make for a meaningful event for those completing the naturalization process, Smith said.

It is intended for foreign-born members of the U.S. military who have earned the right of citizenship through their service but is open to anyone eligible.

A federal judge will perform the ceremony.

The air show is organized as part of the American Heroes Aviation Network, a national organization which began its efforts in Los Angeles in 1993. Local volunteers, such as Smith – who has organized five such events-spearhead the local events.

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute partners with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service for the Naturalization Ceremony.

The event outside Hammond Stadium on the ball fields is free and open to the public. Those attending are invited to “bring family, friends, flags and chairs” to “pay tribute to those who have served our great country and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.”

For those wishing to view the Traveling Vietnam Wall and memorial displays, the gates will open this morning at 9 a.m. and will remain open until 11 p.m. today.