The Gathering of the Patriots, 2012
I live very near the vortex of the United States’ Atlantic, Mediterranean defense commands. Nearby is the world’s largest naval base. Throughout the region are general and specialized military bases, top secret command centers, shipyards, airports, supply distribution and applied research centers, jails, hospitals and educational institutions, all of them just for the use of military personnel. Everyone’s represented here: Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines and even NASA, NATO and the CIA (though we’re not supposed to know about them).
All told, there are something like 130,000 active duty military personnel based here, plus tens of thousands of family members, civilian workers and vast suburban office parks full of defense contractors. They come and go from the world’s war zones. When an aircraft carrier group goes to sea the population drops by about 10,000 people. The guy who coached your kid’s softball team last weekend might be flying a fighter jet over Iraq or Afghanistan this week. At neighborhood pools and cocktail parties people casually throw around terms like “CINCLANTFLEET” and “peaceful deterrent” like people in other places talk about the NBA and the latest sports cars.
90,000 Tons of Diplomacy, 2012
It’s easy to take this for granted. The military’s had a large presence here since the 1700s. It’s recession-proof. The government never misses a paycheck. But to be honest many of us who aren’t involved in the defense industry only get worried about the military presence here when Congress threatens to close a base, move an aircraft carrier to another home port or otherwise take jobs from the region.
To respond to this situation, Virginia Beach did what we so often so in such cases; namely, have a festival. Since 2005, the city has sponsored a “Patriotic Festival” down at the oceanfront resort area “to honor our armed forces personnel and their families.”
The idea is that on one weekend during the normally quiet interval between the Memorial Day holiday weekend and the onset of the high summer tourist season a few weeks later oceanfront hotels make rooms available to military personnel and their families at substantially reduced rates. The city provides entertainment and the military brings out lots of toys to show off. There are vendors all up and down the boardwalk selling everything from patriotic t-shirts to cell phone plans, hot tubs and bathtub inserts. And let’s not forget the barbecued turkey drumsticks and funnel cakes?
I ventured down to the Patriot Festival Saturday morning hoping to find some color to photograph. I thought for sure there’d be some good God-fearing, flag-wearing patriots who would be good photographic subjects. Instead, I just found the usual mix of beachgoers and out-of-towners who’d come to see country music star Miranda Lambert sing at the beachfront stage. Heck, the Shriners who come in September wear more flags than this crowd.