Hundreds of local military families were once again able to get a jump on their back-to-school planning — as well as enjoy some fun in the sun — during the eighth annual Salute to Youth event Friday at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Salute to Youth, as well as the related Backpack Brigade, began as a way for base-affiliated families, with an emphasis on those with special needs, to become familiarized with local education opportunities for their children. The event has grown over the years and now includes a carnival-like atmosphere as military families are given the opportunity to pick up free backpacks and other school supplies at the on-base youth center.

Among the activities Friday were games, face painting, several bounce houses and visits from some animals, including a pony and a turtle.

The school supplies that were given away were separated by age/grade levels, and the students were able to go to different tables and select the items they wanted. Local schools and other youth programs also had representatives on-site to provide information.

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The event was the "culmination of months of planning and the hard work of dozens of volunteers from all over base," according to 30th Space Wing public affairs.

Joining the 30th Space Wing in putting on the event was Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit with a stated mission "to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect," according to its website.

This report was prepared by Willis Jacobson. He can be reached at