Love of country, commitment to community and a sincere appreciation for traditions. Values shared between the greatest maritime force in recorded history and the world's largest charitable production of its kind.


Honoring these qualities, the U.S. Navy journeyed more than 3,000 miles from the nearest ocean to kick up some dust at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's (HLSR) 2017 Armed Forces Appreciation Day, March 8.


According to Rodeo Houston's President and CEO Joel Cowley, the HLSR is a unique blend of extreme sports, family fun, Western heritage, and an agricultural exhibition - all with the economic impact of a Super Bowl - held each year.


"Put a playoff-sized crowd in NRG Stadium for 20 consecutive nights to watch the best athletes in rodeo, followed by a superstar [musician] on the stage every night, surrounded by acres of shopping and food, a giant carnival, and the world's largest livestock show, and you haven't even begun to describe the excitement and the atmosphere that 2.6 million fans enjoyed at our 2017 event," said Crowley.


Deputy Commander of Navy Recruiting Rear Adm. Doug Beal kicked off that excitement by providing the Oath of Enlistment to hundreds upon hundreds of future service members during a Joint Swear-In Ceremony. One of the largest ceremony's in the events recent years, Beal's remarks inspired the next generation of future service members.


"Remember this moment - this is the first day of the rest of your life," Future Sailor Biliana Tran-Le said she whispered to herself during the ceremony. Reflecting on the words, the future intelligence specialist said she felt a great sense of patriotism and commitment to something bigger than her, yet extremely personal. "And I absolutely loved it," she said.


As Tran-Le enjoyed her free tickets to both the Rodeo and to see country music artist Cody Johnson - standard gesture of gratitude for all active, reserve and retired military members and families during the annual military appreciation day - she joined the other 60,000+ Rodeo fans in experiencing the Navy's premiere Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) interactive attraction, the Nimitz. The Nimitz allowed participants to experience life as a combat boat driver with the Navy's Special Forces.


"The STEM asset was amazing!" said Tran-Le. "I could feel everything and almost smell the river water. It was extremely immersive; like nothing I had ever experienced."


Throughout the evening, a sense of patriotism and thankful excitement carried from event to event. The Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard paraded the colors on horseback as the National Anthem rang out - punctuated with fireworks and explosions. The Air Force Rappel Team dropped from the top of the Houston Texans' home stadium a midst a solemn quiet that erupted into booming praise.


Beal said he was "completely humbled" to be one of the select service members honored to ride out on horseback during the opening procession alongside the event's key organizers who led a team of more than 33,000 volunteers dedicated to the day's success.


Joined by executives from Navy Recruiting District Houston, Beal also kicked off the Calf Scramble, in which 30 teens competed for a piece of the $430 million Rodeo Houston has, to date, committed to Texas youth scholarships and charities.


"This was my second year participating in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's Armed Forces Appreciation Day, and the two experiences were both awe-inspiring!"


As a special finale to the event, 6-year old Zoe Fahey, daughter of an active-duty Sailor stationed in Houston, beat out 10 other competitors in the Mutton Bustin' competition, declaring herself - and by extension, the Navy - an official rodeo champion.


"Her father] scooped her up and spun her around for the diamond vision cameras with a big smile!" said Beal. "What a moment!"


Navy Recruiting District Houston has a total of 42 Navy recruiting stations dedicated to finding the best and brightest men and women to serve in America's Navy, while also conducting volunteer activities designed to help give back the city of Houston and the surrounding communities they serve.


For more information on Rode Houston, visit their Web site at www.rodeohouston.com.



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Updated March 1, 2017 (kbh)