By Michael Davis
John Diaz-Barron learned Saturday what not to wear when sliding down a two-story tall inflatable slide.
Standing in line for his second turn on the Screamer, the 11-year-old Rex boy offered some spirited advice to his playmates: "Never wear boxer shorts on this - it hurts."
Diaz-Barron was one of dozens of children and families getting their faces painted, chowing on hot dogs and hamburgers and tugging on one side of a rope or another Saturday Fort Gillem's Spring Fest.
"We come every year," said Terre Diaz, 62, John's grandmother and an Army transportation employee. "Every year we see new faces."
Open to the surrounding community, as the event went on, the crowd at the 1,400-acre installation in Forest Park grew. Forest Park Mayor Charles Hall was also on hand.
"We've got a very close working relationship" with the base, Hall said.
The clanging of a bell signaled the beginning of miniature train rides. Members of the group Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) manned the grill, offering cheeseburgers and hot dogs. John Rodriguez, 13, and Marcus Beard, 12, painted faces.
"I wanted to volunteer to help other kids and my mom," said Beard, sporting some of his own handiwork on his right cheek.
Gillem, for many, is like a city within a city.
"We got married here and this is where we go to church," said Betty Heard, whose husband retired from the armed services after fighting in the Vietnam war.
Angel Castro, 9, and his brother Hector, 10, were part of a contingent of water-balloon warriors who turned a simple tossing game into a playful assault on the game's volunteer coordinator, 21-year-old Army Specialist Kevin Allen. Kids were supposed to toss the balloons back and forth to each other. The winner would be the one that didn't drop it and get wet.
But many children thought it was more fun to douse Allen.
"There were too many of them," Allen said, drenched in water from the waist down. He would later intervene in a game of tug of war.
Barbara Howard, Fort Gillem's Child Liaison Education Outreach Services director, said the event kicks off a month of child-oriented activities on the base.
Last weekend, nearby Fort McPherson held a similar event.
"Last week was a big success, and, from the looks of it, this is a big success," said base spokesman Ron Morton.