This year’s Armed Forces Day Parade is going to be bigger, prouder and louder than ever.
So loud, members of the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce will pass out ear plugs to those who need them.
Lawton’s annual salute to the military kicks off Saturday with events ranging from a concert and children’s face painting, to a swearing-in ceremony for new soldiers, to a parade with all the whistles and bells. And cannons. And an Air Force flyover. And marching bands. And people who just want to celebrate the military.
Interim Chamber President Taron Epps said the chamber is continuing its long-standing tradition of coordinating the largest Armed Forces Day parade in the nation. Kelley Piret, program manager for the parade, said she’s confirmed the parade’s standing as the country’s largest. Both say it’s just the continued commitment of a community that supports its military: those serving, those entering the service and those who have left active duty.
Epps counts himself among that number. He’s retired Army, a Lawtonian by choice, and retains his connections to other military veterans who call Lawton-Fort Sill-Southwest Oklahoma their home. He’s ben assured by veterans of various ages that they love the Armed Forces Day parade and appreciate the community for the effort its puts into the annual event.
“It shows a concerted appreciation for those veterans,” Epps said, of the community’s efforts to recognize veterans.
It’s also an effort to recognize what active duty personnel continue to do. Epps said Fort Sill has a larger-than-normal presence in this year’s festivities. Fort Sill’s efforts will be apparent even before the parade begins, when Acting Commanding General Brig. Gen. Shane Morgan handles a swearing-in ceremony for new recruits at 9:30 a.m. at the reviewing stand at South 11th Street and West Gore, said Piret.
The 2023 parade starts at 10 a.m. on Southwest C Avenue and will travel to Elmer Thomas Park by way of South 11th Street/Fort Sill Boulevard. There are some new touches this year, and two of the largest will test your ears even as they delight your eyes.
Sheppard Air Force Base is sending some of its jets and pilots to do a fly-over, an effort local officials have been trying to coordinate for years. (Piret is already working to ensure the 2024 parade has the same touch). And, don’t think Fort Sill’s artillery will be left out. Cannon fire will announce each time a Fort Sill unit marches by the reviewing stand — and there are seven units scheduled to march in Saturday’s parade. Piret said while the cannon fire is safe, it will be loud, and chamber officials, clearly identified by name tags, will be walking around with ear plugs for those who need them to mute the noise.
The parade will end in Elmer Thomas Park, which is where phase two of the day begins. That celebration begins at 11 a.m., offering a variety of family-friendly events, food vendors, and music by the David Chamberlain Band and Fort Sill’s 77th Army Band. Fort Sill also will provide a variety of equipment for static displays.
“You’ll get to see the equipment they work with every day,” Epps said.
Epps said soldiers will be present to offer explanations of the displayed equipment, which is especially popular with veterans who like to see how weapon technology has changed since they were in the military.
Those veterans also will be part of the celebration. In addition to attending the event — Epps said many local veterans won’t schedule anything that conflicts with the morning parade — some veterans will be on the review stand, along with some of the young men and women who were sworn into the military that morning.
“I can predict that this year is probably the best coordinated that we have ever had,” Epps said.