08 March 2011

83rd Annual Zilker Park Kite Festival (2011)

I was very excited about attending the 2011 Zilker Park Kite Festival.  I prepared our kite the night before, charged 4 backup batteries for my cameras, polished the lenses, oiled my bike chain and formatted my flash drives.   The next morning, I packed oranges and cashews into my pre-packed photo-bag, strapped it to my back and headed out for a day of kite and photo fun.  
(click on any picture to enlarge)

I expected to see a scene like last year:
(photo credit to somethingtocelebrateblog)

However, this is the scene I was greeted with: 

Let me begin by saying I truly appreciate and respect the men and women of the Military,  National Guard and the Texas State Guard.  These amazing individuals have dedicated their lives to the idea of protecting me, my family, my community, state and nation.  
My deepest gratitude for your service.

"The Texas State Guard (TXSG) mission as a branch of the Texas Military Forces is to provide mission-ready military forces to assist State and local authorities in times of state emergencies, with homeland security and community service through Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA). To augment the other two branches of the Texas Military Forces, the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard as force multipliers"

I asked numerous soldiers why they were there.  Each responded in the same manner: "We are here to aid with security."  


After numerous such responses, I went to the "Command Tent" and the officers gave me their attention as I asked why they were there.  The gentleman who addressed me advised me that his troops had been working hard all year and this was their reward.

Wouldn't it be  a better reward to give them the day off and let them enjoy Kite Day with their families?  

Would they be any less vigilant in watching over their community if they volunteered without the uniforms?

I don't think so.

Rather than inculcating a military presence into the consciousness of our community, maybe we could focus on continuing to strengthen the bonds our community is famous for.

The command center was the recruiting center, located between the restrooms and the primary drop-off/pick-up points for the school buses that shuttled families in - supervised by the Guard.

There must be other venues more appropriate for a military recruiting tent.

 If organizers believe that a recruiting tent for a branch of the Texas Military Forces is necessary at the family (children's) kite festival, maybe they would consider a proximity away from arriving families and an agreement to maintain conformity with other vendors and organizations. 

I respectfully request that uniformed soldiers not be involved in ANY security or policing duties.

In retrospect, can we agree there are better ideas than setting a military perimeter around a children's festival? 

Although most of the TXSG was courteous and respectful, a good number appeared to find the presence of a long-haired guy on a bicycle with a camera in South Austin to be a concern.




This is a family kite festival and there is no need for a military presence or this level of security.

After contacting the organizers of the festival with my concerns, Billie McCulley contacted me let me know that "...Amazingly enough we have fewer than 20 members who are able to work the fest..."  "...we rely heavily on volunteers, usually numbering in the 800s." 
          "...This year we asked the Texas Guard to volunteer and to set up a recruiting booth."  

"...The Guard is a gallant and patriotic organization that sounded like a group of volunteers who could help us take care of 30,000 attendees."    

I let her know I am thrilled that the TXSG wants to volunteer their talents in security and logistics, but that it's a concern when done by the same people in uniform. The children that attended this function looked at generous volunteers offering up their time and saw military uniforms instructing them where to go and running security.  From my "Keep Austin Weird and America Free" perspective, I view this as a potential slippery slope for our community culture.

Ms. McCulluey asked me to come to one of the Kite Festival Planning Meetings to voice my concerns and to share some of the ideas I have to let more people know about the festival and how they can contribute.  You know I'll be there!

The ‘Kite Tournament’ was created by The Exchange Club of Austin in 1929 with a mission to encourage creativity in children. It is still owned and run by the club.

I've attended the  Zilker Park Kite Festival for years before we became residents of Barton Hills. We love our neighborhood, our park and our community.  We look forward to attending again...When my backyard is military uniform-free and filled with children flying kites in a creative, care-free environment.

Please help get the word out!  This is not a city event.  This is an organization that needs inspired, creative, committed help.  It doesn't cost anything to volunteer.  
They are struggling to accommodate crowds attracted and inspired by a great idea.  

 If you or your organization would like to volunteer  talents & resources to help with the festival, please click here.

My hope is that others would:  Share their point of view with the sponsors of the event with respect, love, reason and ideas with an intention of positive change.  Let's continue the tradition of non-uniformed community volunteers at the Zilker Park Kite festival.

I truly believe that there is a better way.

I love you, I'm sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you. ~ Ho Ľoponopono


Ferd said...

Wow. I am very thankful for our military folk as well, but this was basically a very misdirected recruiting effort. Bummer!

Taz said...

I have to admit. My kids were very please to get a chance to attend the kite festival this year, and we will be going back to many more like it. The Soldiers were very freindly and helpful, we personally witnessed them locate a handful of missing children. Guess that goes with the communications training they have been provided.

I'm just saying...

Nathan said...


Instead of complaining and whining about TNG members who volunteered their time, so you and thousands of other people could safely cross the street, why don't you offer up the 'better way' that you speak of? Maybe it would start with something like YOU volunteering your time.....

Frank said...

Sir, I would respectfully disagree with your analysis. This was not a "misdirected recruiting effort" it was a way of serving our community at the same time letting people know who we are and what we do. We are volunteers who receive no pay when asked to do things like assisting at the kite festival. Our unit has volunteered for many community activities such as this ranging from rodeos to Blue Santa.

These were soldiers from my unit who were trying to follow one one our mottos in the Guard, "Texans Helping Texans". No one even mentioned a "long haired guy with a camera" because no one cared. We don't make judgements like that because we are all Texans together.

During Hurricane Alex last year these same individuals left their regular jobs and went to the Valley to assist our fellow citizens in providing all sorts of needed expertise and service.

The fact that you chose to focus on a small table with literature about our organization and mission seems to indicate an inability to see the whole picture. I hope I'm wrong.

CW4 Frank M.

Arlene said...

It is incredibly interesting to me that so many people can look at a situation and see completely different things in relation to it. Coming from a military family, I have great respect for their service; however, I myself was concerned at seeing the military presence. It also appeared heavy-handed for a kite festival in the park - Austin isn't exactly known for it's high rate of aggressive people. After some investigation, however, it would appear that the Zilker Kite organization was simply in desperate need for help and they had friendly relations here and I can certainly understand how this came to be.

I just had a few questions: who was in charge? President Obama, Governor Perry, or Mayor Leffingwell? What kind of security required their extensive expertise? Why did they have a poorly trained dog that barked and jumped at everyone as they walked by? That seems completely unnecessary to me. Why were they counting and dividing people up as they boarded the shuttle buses? These are sincere questions as I cannot see everyone else's perspective, these are things I noticed and was curious about.

George said...

Um mam. I believe that Dog was a family pet rather than a "poorly trained" guard dog. Allow me to explain that the kind of work the State Guard does is ONLY to help the community and the State. This was our own decision to volunteer. Not Obama's or Perry's. We decided to help where it was needed. That's what we do. As for counting and separating people on buses, you can only fit so many people on a bus. I'm sure there was a legitimate reason for it. The State Guard does what it can to help. We are proud Texans doing our best to help fellow Texans. Be it a Hurricane Disaster, flooding, manning disaster shelters, providing help to others at festivals....We live and love to serve, with a big heart, and relentless will to do what's right, and what needs be done. Thank you for understanding.

Sara said...

First of all I would like to say that I too am from a military family and my mom was gone for 3 years with "daddy" Bush in '91. Secondly, I do appreciate all the men and women that thanklessly serve our country for a "war" that is senseless and never ending. I was curious as well about the attendance of the guard. Why didn't the kite fest folks put a call out to the community? Also, I don't think a recruiting station is proper to put up at a family kite fest. "How about sign up for the military, get f***** by the government and risk getting killed over seas while remembering a glorious day at the kite fest back home?" Sound awesome, not.
I agree with Arelene, it did feel heavy handed and the gentlemen were not very cordial while loading and unloading the busses. As for the dogs, I am a dog owner of 3 dogs. A responsible dog owner. If I know that my dog is stressed or does not tolerate crowds, I don't bring my dog to those events. That barking, lurching dog (I believe a beagle) had no place at the festival. That guy was begging for a lawsuit from a parent with a curious child.
Bottom line, if the guys were volunteers, why not wear street clothes, or kite fest shirts? I am in the medical field and when I volunteer, I don't go sporting a white coat and my scrubs. Military recruiting and propaganda doesn't belong at a family affair. Nobody wants to send their kids off to a neverending war. Finally, agressive animals and I saw animals off leashes, they don't belong at family festivals.
Finally, I did have fun on my island of peace and love away from all of the chaos.

Jenny M said...

You guys from the guard seem quite defensive about all of this. You act as if we should all know that you are volunteers, that you don't represent militaristic control within our society.

I can still hear my daughter-Mommy why is the army here? She didn't see volunteers and neither did I.

Did you wear something that identified you as volunteers? NO. Maybe shirts that say we find missing children? No. Maybe even ones that said "Ask me about the TXSG"?

No, you chose to wear military fatigues-symbols of power, aggression, authority and jingoism. There is a reason blackwater wears fatigues instead of pastel T-shirts with Festival lettering-I think the word is INTIMIDATION.

We have a swelling police state and a military that is being used in absolutely offensive and often illegal ways around the planet.

A children's festival is the last place we need the military, para-military or mercenary troops...no matter how nice all of you are or how many missing children you found.

I like that you are all willing to help, if you can release the power suits, I would welcome you back-Until you can do that...I don't want you around my kids.
I can tell you took a lot of care to write this article nicely and trying to present both sides.

Erik said...

Thanks for the comment. I don't think that the organizers or the volunteers realized how it might appear to civilians attending a festival. I expect they might as more people comment.

Thanks for the comment. You raise a good point. I'm glad to hear that they were so effective in locating the lost children. The point most of us are making is that it isn't their uniforms that found the children.

Your approach is what many have come to understand the military approach to be: To defend is to attack. Why do you view a dissenting opinion with constructive criticism and suggestions for change to be whining and complaining?

I took great care stating my disagreement while giving credit to those who generously donated their time. Plus, I did this without personally attacking anyone. I have offered up solutions and alternatives and even began a recruiting effort for the Exchange Club within my article. I made certain to leave out specific incidents that I might have misinterpreted and could possibly paint some in a a negative light.

Something you might not recognize is that many of us believe we are capable of crossing the street alone and take offense that you don't.

I hope that I will see you at the planning meetings so that we might have an interchange where we could discuss ways of interacting with the '04 neighborhood that might be more well-received.

CW4 Frank M (My Texan Brother),
We greatly appreciate your efforts and the efforts of your troops. You may not recognize how your appearance impacts the people around you.

Hurricane Alex would be a perfectly acceptable situation in which one might don a uniform and use all of your specialized training.

I don't know that any of us mentioned the table with literature. Seems to me that the table and literature you mention are a book in the library of the big picture.

If the table were under a tent that was congruent with other vendors in size, shape and proximity to the drop-off points and the uniforms were limited to people in/around the recruiting tent; it is likely you would be more readily welcomed by residents like the ones who have commented thus far.

Regarding the long-hair comment: My perceptions may have been wrong. I may have been more sensitive to the direction/posturing of the bodies, heads and eyes of the troops and communication devices as I passed than I would have been with civilians.

I attribute this to the fact that I am not used to seeing men in fatigues directing traffic in my neighborhood and creating a perimeter around my townspeople.

Erik said...

I think that your statement regarding heavy-handedness points out the connotations associated with uniforms. Although no one was roughed up and most of the soldiers were perfectly congenial and respectful--that's not what the civilian eye sees when they see a uniform.

When people see fatigues, they see the military. When people see the military in their neighborhood outside of emergencies and natural disasters, many see control, aggression and loss of autonomy (connotative understanding of the uniform), not volunteers (people).

My understanding is that the Adjutant General of Texas and the Governor are considered to be the ranking officers for this organization. I do not know if they were involved or notified of the decision to participate in this event.

Another example of the connotation of the uniform is how many view counting children and dividing them into groups as they are placed on buses. If done by people in colorful t-shirts, people would likely see helpful volunteers making certain children don't get separated from parents or their groups. When done by men in uniform, many conjure scenes from other countries, history, news (hurricane Katrina, G20, etc.).

Thanks for your service and taking time to communicate your views. You see a family dog, because you know the person and likely the dog. But, that's not everyone's perception.

Think of movies you have seen where a dog is barking and pulling at a lead held by a soldier. Now consider the pictures and videos of the same on the nightly news. Can you see how these things might shape public perception of something so connotatively symbolic? With this in mind, imagine how today's average civilian South Austin parent might view what they saw.

Thank you for pointing out the importance of appropriateness of any uniform, specific to the situation.

You share the views of many in S. Austin who have watched their friends, family and innocents around the world perish (or worse).

I am pretty certain, from your comments, that you agree when they put their lives on the line for us every day--They deserve our respect and our diligence in electing leaders who have less militaristic geopolitical approaches.

I think that troops are starting to see that our problem isn't with them, but with how they are perceived because of the uniforms.

Thanks for your comments. I actually spent about 2 1/2 days trying to write the article in a way that would communicate my dissatisfaction while letting everyone know my appreciation at the same time. Thanks for that recognition.

I think that as people comment/communicate, we can create understanding and cooperation between the neighborhood and the generous hearts who didn't understand how their fashion sense would be interpreted.

Pete said...


I can understand some people not liking the fact we were in uniform. However, staying on this point, why do you not also point out the sherriff's post, the medical personnel, the vendors that wore their uniforms? Following your train of thought on this matter, not one person associated with the event should have worn their own uniform. Imagine not being able to use your blog graphics, picture or name for this post. Let's say you had to use the another organization's blog page. Point to ponder.

In fact, our uniform was directly responsible for the return of 2 lost children to their families as people saw the uniform and recognized we were there to help and brought the lost children to our members.

The event organzers were 100% in charge of our taskings. They would tell us what they needed and we would put our members there and do what they asked and how they asked us to do it.

Only so many people were allowed on each bus. Also, we were not supervising the bus loading. Two of the event organizers were doing that.

Sometimes little ones don't always pay attention crossing the road and thats why we were there.

Now what you call the recruiting tent. It was our command post and yes we had some literature there. We did answer questions about what we do. It was also used for shade, which more than one of the festival goers appreciated. We also watched little ones when parents didnt want them in the sun while they waited in line at the portable toilets. We watched pets, personal belongings, alerted the medical teams when needed, arranged transportation for persons that could not walk to their cars. You get the picture.

When you were asking me questions, I was working 4 seperate radio circuits, cel phone, keeping track of our people and organizing our soldiers to do our best to support the event organizers. Your repetitive questions, each the same but phrased differently, were a distraction I could ill afford. When you asked if we were doing policing in conjuction with APD, in several ways and each time I answered no, we were supporting the organizers of the event. For the record, we didn't have any communications set up with APD or receive any instructions from them. This article is a little different than we expected, but the negative slant was very expected.

To answer your questions about federal funding for the event, we were not funded by the organizers, the city, the state or the federal government to be there that day. We paid out of our own pockets to do what we did.

What has me personally questioning the veracity of your blog, is you did not represent the whole picture in your blog. You were informed we were not working with APD in any capacity and yet you still bluntly said we were doing security and policing. That Sir, is not correct. You also said you talked to the officers. Well, you didn't. You said something that inferred we had a ring of soldiers around the event. We had a total of 15 there and only 4 in the kite area.

As for the dog, it was not a watch dog. Simply a pet.

We do recognize and appreciate your statement of thanks. Many of the event attendees also expressed their thanks and appreciation. Some even appear in your photos.

Perhaps if your posting had presented all the facts. Perhaps if your interrogation technique was different. Perhaps if you would have not been trying to trick our members into giving the answers you wanted rather than the truth.

Yes I kept an eye on you simply because of your aggressive mannersisms and tone. Anybody, whether a soldier or not, would do that. Following one of our soldiers on his way to his post taking pictures of him does tend to get you noticed though.

If you're going to present something to your readers, whether it's about this or any other subject, put out all the facts as they are. Had you done that, I seriously doubt you would have had any comments from us.

A good day to you Sir.

John David said...

I am an Austin native, and have always enjoyed attending various festivals and making uses of our many parks. We have so many interesting and friendly people with great community spirit, and that is hard to find elsewhere. I appreciate all types of art and music, of which Austin has plenty to offer. I am also a history buff and have a deep respect for the military. Camp Mabry has a cool museum you should check out sometime, they will let anyone on post as long as you have a TX drivers license or ID, you can fish in the pond, or even use the track.

I do agree that a military presence at a kite festival is out of place. Perhaps not the most appropriate venue. I certainly found it strange.

However after mulling over the details, it would seem that they had a variety of legitimate reasons for providing support for an event of such magnitude.

Their Mission(as defined in your blog):
to assist State and local authorities in times of state emergencies, with homeland security and community service

There was no emergency, Homeland Security was not involved, nor was FEMA. But what I see is the pure essence of community service. Soldiers, giving their time to help their community in a positive way. Someone who sees things differently, views the glass as half empty.

Evidently, they were severely short-handed and the gap was filled by willing uniformed volunteers. You seem to think that soldiers volunteering to help at an understaffed festival is bad for Austins community culture?

I'm all for keeping Austin weird, but I'm not sure that means we need to disrespect those who maintain our freedom, and serve us selflessly. How is that good for our community?

It seems as though your argument centers around your disdain of the military uniform.

Uniforms date back to roman times, and serve many purposes. Soldiers who took an oath, swearing to serve you, and their country earn the right to wear such a uniform. Its not a way to intimidate, or subjugate the populace, Its more of a right of passage, a symbol of personal strengths, and good values. To ask a soldier to remove their uniform is an example or extreme ignorance or disrespect.

Those soldiers volunteering at the kite festival did not have the right to arrest, they were not carrying weapons, they were just there to help.

Police wear uniforms, carry guns, and have the power to arrest or detain you. I personally, would be much more wary of a police officer that a solder of any branch of our countries military.

What about the police presence at the festival? You don't seem to have a problem with APD being there.

I think you need to stop fear-mongering and realize that even a uniformed solder at a kite festival, may be a long haired, bike riding, art and music loving Austinite on the inside

Nathan said...

Eric, your point is well taken and understood. The whining and complaining comment is based around the fact you offer no relevant suggestions for change. I am sure you can cross the street just fine, this is not about you. It is about the safety of the children and general public. Do I agree that a fully dressed military presence is required? Not necessarily, but what other 'better' option is/was out there? The TNG stepped up and we should be more grateful for what we do have. Where else in the World can you have a kite festival or even the right to discuss how and who runs safety/security? Would you rather APD be there? No. There were 15 TNG members volunteering that day. 15! If you can wrangle up 15 guys or gals that will take responsibility for the safety of the thousand/s of children and fellow Austinies next year, you can count me as one of them. I was glad to see your initiative to discuss better options for next years' event; let's hope you stick with it. AND, that you for posting the dissenting opinions...I was curious if you would. Well Done Sir! GOD Bless the ATX and it's diversity. PS, I am not a Guard-Guy. Just a father and Austinite. Thanks for sharing your opinion.

Chris said...

Can I ask a question? My grand father was one of the army guys there. I'm young but really, I thought it was great to see the army guys there. I asked my grand dad why he was going to do that and he said come with me and find out. So I did. I watched all day. They were really busy. Just before I went home, my grand dad had a big smile and he told the other army guys he was proud of them. Lots of people shook his hand. It made him feel really good.

Does it really matter what they were wearing? I really want to know. They were helping people. Isnt that what army guys do? I know they go to war too, but that's not they're fault. I watched my grand dad helping a little boy that was lost.

I didnt get to talk to him all day, but he looked over at me a lot and smiled and winked.

My dad found this and showed it to me. He says thats why he wont join the army. I asked my grand dad and he says thats why he joined. I dont get it. I asked if I can write something and this is it.

Theo said...

You know, I went to the festival. I saw the Guard guys. Didnt bother me in the least. I thought "Now these people respect the sacrifice" I'm down from Canada. Did 7 seven combat tours Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm sorry but I really don't see why you're picking on what they are wearing. Maybe if they were carrying weapons, arresting people, or even if there were a couple a hundred of them, I might see your point. But really? What's your problem? They wore uniforms????

I know I'm an army guy, but aren't there more important problems to be upset about? Like how most of our children can't read? Both here and in Canada? I mean really. Can we get a life here?

Erik said...

I would like to offer to meet in person with the entire troop to discuss your views, mine, who we are and how we can work together.

Thank your for all of your thoughtful comments. I will respond to you all in the near future.

Even though I don't wear a uniform like yours, I believe we don't think that much differently, even though the windows we look out provide very different views.

For now, respite with my family from a long. I look forward to continuing this dialog soon.

Teri said...

Erik--You raise some good points here. Thanks for joining my blog. I reciprocated here as well. I saw your comment over at Steve's and thought you looked like "a kindred soul" (and no...it wasn't the long hair that made me think that!) I think like you do in this regard about the presence of the military. In the case of an national emergency, yes, we would want to look toward someone who looked "in charge...on a mission". This, however was a KITE FESTIVAL and like you said, they could have volunteered as citizens in civilian clothing and done just the same job (or maybe even better because SOME people might not have been intimidated to walk up and ask for help.) I, personally, don't like the idea of a military presence. I get the same feeling seeing cops en mass...they seem to have a "better-than-thou" feeling going on. Do you think, perhaps, that because of the Gabrielle Giffords incident that groups of people are now freaking "those in charge" out? And, like my husband says, it seemed like a opportunity to seize regarding recruitment. Ferd seems to think the same thing.

Dirk said...

Thanks for spearheading this. Hopefully The Exchange Club will listen and find a better solution in the future. Having the military on the streets for security is not the road we want to be taking.

The Johansens said...

Sad...you are speaking respectfully and none of the "soldiers" seem to have anything but contempt for you.

It's nice to see that one side is being reasonable. I see you reaching out. They seem to miss the point. It's not about them, but about their uniforms and what they communicate.

We will be writing the governor! This is not acceptable!