'Laissez les bons temps roulez!'

Peter Peterzen, king of the 2013 Navarre Krewe of Jesters, left, shakes hands with Staff Sgt. Alex Patten, 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, right, after a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. Patten drove a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle as part of Hurlburt Field's entry in the parade. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Peter Peterzen, king of the 2013 Navarre Krewe of Jesters, left, shakes hands with Staff Sgt. Alex Patten, 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, right, after a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. Patten drove a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle as part of Hurlburt Field's entry in the parade. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Member of the Hadji Misfits, a local group of the Shriners, ride carts bearing flags along a parade route during a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. Several entries competed for winning best entry in the parade. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Member of the Hadji Misfits, a local group of the Shriners, ride carts bearing flags along a parade route during a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. Several entries competed for winning best entry in the parade. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Honor Guardsmen from the 1st Special Operations Wing carry the colors during a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. The 1st SOW also participated in the parade with a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Honor Guardsmen from the 1st Special Operations Wing carry the colors during a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. The 1st SOW also participated in the parade with a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Pete Peterzen, king of the 2013 Navarre Krewe of Jesters, waves while riding on a float in a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. More than 25,000 citizens attended the parade and its festivities. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Pete Peterzen, king of the 2013 Navarre Krewe of Jesters, waves while riding on a float in a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. More than 25,000 citizens attended the parade and its festivities. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Col. Troy Molnar, commander of 1st Special Operations Medical Group, rides atop a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle during a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. Molnar was accompanied by a dozen volunteers from Hurlburt Field who walked alongside the vehicle in the parade. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Col. Troy Molnar, commander of 1st Special Operations Medical Group, rides atop a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle during a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. Molnar was accompanied by a dozen volunteers from Hurlburt Field who walked alongside the vehicle in the parade. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Senior Airman Lavelle Ali, 823rd RED HORSE, right, receives a bead necklace from a local resident after a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. Hurlburt Field Airmen participated in the event to foster ties with the Emerald Coast community. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Senior Airman Lavelle Ali, 823rd RED HORSE, right, receives a bead necklace from a local resident after a mardi gras parade at Navarre Beach, Fla., Feb. 2, 2013. Hurlburt Field Airmen participated in the event to foster ties with the Emerald Coast community. (U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- As a holiday, Mardi Gras can mean many things to different people. Keeping it G-rated for this commentary, I've noticed that interpretations of "Fat Tuesday" often center on several staples: a.) New Orleans and French/Cajun culture, b.) bright purple, green and gold colors, c.) pancakes or moon-pies, and d.) lots and lots of beads.

Now, blame it on my upbringing or a lack of "worldliness," but I never understood what the hoopla was about any day before a Wednesday (unless it was because it was no longer Monday.) I'm not from Louisiana nor am I of French descent; those colors alone don't flatter me, let alone any combination of them; I prefer waffles and cookies; and after you get the beads... what do you do with them?

So, after reading these qualifications, you can probably see how I had Mardi Gras, or any day celebrating it, would be just another day on my calendar.

And then, one morning in January, I got a phone call at work.

"Airman McFadden, I'd like you to serve as a judge for this year's parade," said Wayne Hall, a retired chief master sergeant and president of the Navarre Krewe of Jesters, through the phone.

As I held the phone receiver against my ear, I recalled the many times I had random statements said to me. Things like "Is that your car I saw being towed away right now?" or "You will not believe what your ex-girlfriend did today..."

Yet I knew the chief was serious--at least as serious as one could be as the elected president of a bunch of jesters. At that point, the 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs Office had already procured a vehicle, recruited volunteers to walk alongside it and solicited Col. Troy Molnar, commander of 1st Special Operations Medical Group, and his wife to lead the base's entry and toss out beads. Wasn't that enough?

But no, he was insistent not only in requesting a judge but in selecting me--a junior Airman who didn't have much enthusiasm for Mardi Gras --for the role. I was honored to be considered and accepted on the grounds that I had already made my plans on being there as a participant and, if things went well, I might even write about the experience too.

I showed up the morning of the parade wearing the "required" color combination, save for an Air Force ball cap. The base's entry, a Humvee from the 1st Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron, was already in place and our team was ready to go.

Moments before the parade started, something occurred to me that I hadn't considered before. I had been in many community parades-- be it riding inside the float, walking alongside it, serving as a parade marshal or filling out the official entry. Yet in all of those circumstances, I had been in uniform and been among my fellow Airmen.

This time I was in civilian clothes and part of the more than 25,000 bead-hungry citizens gathered to watch the parade from the sidewalks. Where I had once been a participant in the parade, I was now a spectator being afforded a different perspective.

This perspective I now had showed me how our parade entries were viewed by the local community. As our HUMVEE strolled down Gulf Boulevard, I watched as the throngs of festive revelers, who had moments before been grabbing for beads or scarfing down moon-pies, started applauding and cheering.

I saw residents--ranging from children to veterans - salute and say "Thank you for your service" as the Air Commandos rolled by. And at one point along the parade route, a group of high school students actually crowded around the Humvee chanting "USA!!! USA!!!"

That's when I realized this day wasn't just about being a judge or about how I felt about a particular day. This was about something bigger--about appreciation and gratitude for the relationship between the military and our community. We, as the military, cannot do what we do without their support, and we truly do everything we do with them foremost in our minds.

As Col. Molnar later told me, "It's simple - these events are the opportunity for our country and our Airmen to interact. As we approached each section of the route, the volume of the cheering went up as we went by. It was truly humbling watching the outpouring of support for our Air Force. The Airmen delivered as usual, and presented a professional and engaging image of our military. It was abundantly clear from this event that there is mutual respect and admiration from both the crowd and our Airmen."

What I at first interpreted as routine--worse, even a chore--to coordinate, I hadn't realized how strong of an impression it could make until I sat on the sidelines. Every opportunity we get to work with our friends in our local community is always an honor, and I'm grateful to Chief Hall for allowing us to do so.

As the French say about this day, "Laissez les bons temps roulez!" or "Let the good times roll!" so shall it be with future endeavors between my fellow Air Commandos and the Emerald Coast Community.