President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, alongside renowned Chef Robert Irvine, hosted a Friendsgiving meal in the Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15 hangar on Naval Station Norfolk for roughly 400 family members of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) Sailors, as well as single Sailors assigned to units on the naval station, Nov. 19, 2023.
The event was part of the ongoing White House initiative Joining Forces, to support military families, according to the first lady. The Robert J. Irvine Foundation has been a close ally, as the event marked the third time the two have teamed up to honor and support military families.
Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group deployed on May 2, 2023 and Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group deployed on Oct. 14, 2023. Both carrier strike groups are deployed to the U.S. 6th and U.S. 5th Fleets during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Irvine said the mission of the Robert J. Irvine Foundation is not only to offer support to veterans, but to raise public awareness of all the array of efforts and sacrifices made in defense of freedom.
“This Friendsgiving, I want to express my gratitude for all of you, especially those aboard the Eisenhower and the Ford forward deployed,” said Irvine. “For our military volunteer chefs who have helped my team prepare today’s meal, for the hospitality of the United States President Biden and the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and for the privilege to call myself a citizen of this great nation. Thank you and God bless you all.”
A Dwight D. Eisenhower military spouse Sibrena Sears, wife of Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Launch/Recovery) Shannon Sears, and mother of five, spoke about the importance of having a military community before introducing President Biden.
“I am one of the many people whose spouse deployed on the Eisenhower,” said Sears. “Before becoming a military spouse, I was active duty and before then I was a Navy ‘brat.’ I can say that I have experienced this life from every perspective … being away from family is not easy, but one thing that I can say that makes it easier is this military community and events like these that help bring us to together, and let us know that we are not forgotten, and we are still important.”
The commander in chief expressed immense gratitude to the service members and their families and heaped much praise on the U.S. Navy.
“We only have one truly sacred obligation, and that’s to prepare those who we send into harm’s way, care for them and their families when they come home, and to make sure they are never forgotten,” he said. “Everywhere I go in my career no one misunderstands that we have the finest military in the world. It’s not just because of our fighting ability, but the way you dedicate your lives … Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The commander in chief and first lady served guests, then put their focus on engaging with service members and families tableside before departing for the evening. The meal was provided by the Robert Irvine Foundation and was prepared by its staff alongside active-duty Sailors at the naval station.
“It was truly an honor to host Friendsgiving at Naval Station Norfolk,” said Capt. Janet Days, commanding officer, Naval Station Norfolk. “This was an amazing opportunity for all the Sailors and family members throughout Hampton Roads who participated! What a great way to kick off the holiday season!”
The transformation of the HM-15 hangar into an upscale dining facility in only a matter of days required many hands of volunteers, especially those assigned to the HM-15 squadron.
“What an absolute privilege and honor it was to host the president and first lady and their team,” said Cmdr. Andrew Countiss, HM-15 Commanding Officer. “The MH-53E ‘Sea Dragon’ helicopter was center stage today. HM-15 really stepped up and was able to showcase the great talents and many contributions of everybody in the squadron. This was a very humbling experience.”
Yeoman 3rd Class Reyna Bautista-Martinez and Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Jazmin Gabilanes, both assigned to HM-15, volunteered to help set up for Friendsgiving and expressed genuine excitement to be a part of the memorable event.
“I never thought I would be able to meet the president,” said Gabilanes. “When I heard he was coming here, I was waiting for someone to ask for volunteers. I really wanted to meet him.”
Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, who represents all of east coast aircraft carriers and squadrons, emphasized that special events like Friendsgiving focus on not just our Sailors deployed overseas, but the families sustaining the household back on the home front.
“It is humbling to play a part in thanking the brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform and uphold their commitment to the constitution, and their families who sacrifice so that their loved ones may serve,” said Verissimo. “It is an absolute honor to welcome the commander in chief, the first lady and Chef Irvine here, and I know that the families of the Gerald R. Ford and Dwight D. Eisenhower Strike Groups appreciate this act of giving during the holiday.”
Also in attendance was Adm. Daryl Caudle, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command; Fleet Master Chief John Perryman, Fleet Master Chief, U.S. Fleet Forces Command; Rear Adm. David Patchell, Vice Commander, U.S. Second Fleet, Canadian Navy; and Rear Adm. Michael Sciretta, Director Maritime Operations, U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
|Date Posted:||11.19.2023 21:10|
|Location:||NORFOLK, VA, US|
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