The USO Hawaii held the “Twilight Tribute to the Troops” event at Sea Life Park, June 15, 2013.
The park offered free admission to service members and their families and was closed to the public for the event giving the military families access to all the attractions in the park.
“We wanted to host a night out,” said Kristin Tierney, programs manager for USO Hawaii. “We wanted to provide our Hawaii-based families with an experience that they may not have been able to have otherwise.”
More than 4,500 service members and their families attended the event, Tierney explained.
“We were thrilled with the turnout for this event,” she said. “We knew people were excited, but we never expected 2,000 would show up within the first hour.”
The families were able to enjoy the park from 3 to 9 p.m. Free parking at Bellows Air Force Station was provided, with a shuttle taking families to and from the park. Throughout the night there were giveaways, free children’s activities, and a variety of aquatic animal shows. Several Marine Corps Base Hawaii organizations like Marine and Family Services set up resource tables.
“It was really exciting for the kids,” said Molly Skeel, an administrative support assistant with Marine and Family Services. “There were lots of activities and you could see they were enjoying themselves.”
The park set up a special schedule of shows and events to accommodate the military families.
“We were really excited to come to this event,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Abel Villarreal, an information systems technician from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam who attended the event. “My favorite show was the dolphin show. The trainers had the dolphins doing flips and cool tricks.”
In the Dolphin Cove Show, dolphins and their trainers did a variety of stunts and tricks.
The Kolohe Kai Sea Lion Show presented the sea lions as more of the comic entertainment, where they did different tricks like playing spy, where the sea lion mimicked the trainer and snuck around the stage like James Bond.
The Chief’s Luau Show consisted of the world champion knife dancer and Polynesian comedian, Chief Sielu. There were fire dancers, Polynesian drummers and various entertainers at the show.
The military families were welcomed by the massive shark tank at the entrance of the park. The different park trails lead people underground, around the tank to observe different depths of fish and aquatic life. Other attractions included a penguin exhibit, a sea bird sanctuary, and a sea turtle feeding exhibit.
Among the myriad of attendees were Marine spouse Kayla Jordan and her family. This was the family’s first time visiting Sea Life Park.
Jordan said she enjoyed the dolphin show and the views from behind the dolphin exhibit while her 10-month-old son simply loved the animals in motion, especially the sea turtles.
“My husband mostly enjoyed just spending time with us since he is usually not home when events like this are held,” she said.
“We love the USO,” Jordan added. “It is such a great organization. Every time we fly, we try to visit the USOs in the airports. I do wish they did more events here in Hawaii. I loved that (during) this event they offered food for a cheaper price. It really helped out on making the experience a very affordable and fun time.”