Operation Military Appreciation tomorrow in Puhi

What do you get when you erect a beer garden, invite 200 bikers, then rock the island with live music?

The answer: A heap of support for Kaua‘i’s military ‘ohana.

From noon to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Grove Farm Park in Puhi, join the Kaua‘i Chapter of Sons of Hawai‘i Motorcycle Club and Kaua‘i Harley Davidson for a full day of biker antics, food and music.

The morning opens with a “Freedom Ride” motorcycle parade open to the public, beginning in Puhi and rumbling west to Kekaha before returning to pay respects at the War Memorial.

Sons of Hawai‘i conceived of the event as a way to support families touched intimately by the war.

“At first we just wanted to host a barbecue,” said club member and event organizer Tony Ricci, who had heard of the struggles reservist families were experiencing.

“The paycheck follows the soldier,” he continued, explaining that when a community member on Kaua‘i is called to serve, their wages get lost in the process. Soldiers travel around for training and even in this day of electronics, paychecks are tossed around in the shuffle.

Last year’s inaugural event came together quickly. In under five weeks the club of 20 bikers pulled together a massive undertaking with corporate sponsors like Grove Farm and Hotel Coral Reef providing funds for the family readiness groups.

“Sons of Hawai‘i just networked and, boom, we did it,” Ricci said. “The word spread, and then Randal Francisco of the Chamber of Commerce said, ‘Let’s makes this part of Patriotic Week around the Fourth of July.’”

Operation Military Appreciation is a fundraising and awareness event that lends assistance to Air National Guard Family Readiness, Kaua‘i Navy Family Readiness and Kaua‘i Army National Guard Family Readiness. The groups provide support to spouses and children of Kaua‘i’s active service military personnel who are sent abroad.

Last year’s event raised $21,000. The funds become available in October and families can call when they get in a pinch.

“It’s usually only $100 to cover a bill,” Ricci said. “Or last year around Christmas the three readiness groups wanted to throw a Christmas party for the kids and we used some proceeds to buy gifts.”

Ricci said all of the money raised stays on Kaua‘i.

“We do what we can to keep morale up — these guys aren’t gone for six months, they leave for 12 to 18 months,” Ricci said. “People don’t even realize they’ve been shipped out until a year goes by and you run into someone you used to pass on the road, when you ask, ‘Hey, where you been?’ They tell you they’ve been in the Philippines or Iraq.”

At 9 a.m. tomorrow the festivities begin with a motorcycle parade from the Grove Farm Park in Puhi, located behind the Kaua‘i Harley Davidson retail shops. Registration starts at 9 a.m. with the bikers leaving at 10 a.m.

Money raised also assists Kaua‘i Veterans Council.

“All year long they do (honor guard) out of their own pocket so we donated 10 percent of the proceeds to them last year,” Ricci said.

There will be food vendors, a raffle drawing, an inflatable water side and games for keiki. Donations are accepted through October, at which time funds are allocated to the four beneficiaries of Operation Military Appreciation: the Air, Army and Navy National Guard Family Readiness groups and to Kaua‘i Veterans Council.

Donations are accepted at Ron’s Puhi Paint or Kaua‘i Harley Davidson in Puhi. For more information, call Tony at 652-7140.

Want to go?

Grove Farm Park in Puhi

9 a.m. — Parade sign up.

10 a.m. — Biker brigade begins.

12:15 to 12:50 p.m. — Military honor guard presentation.

1:30 to 3 p.m. — Simple Session band.

3 to 5 p.m. — “Biker” games: slow-drag and off-road riders skill exhibition.

5 to 6:30 p.m. — Live reggae.

7:15 to 8:45 p.m. — Michael Barrato and the Garden Isle Blues Band.

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