By USO Staff
After more than eight months at sea, the crew of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier returned stateside in April, but many of its sailors still spent Thanksgiving apart from their families. They have continued their assignments living near Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia, during the ship’s maintenance period.
Even while back in the United States, spending the holidays away from family and friends is still a reality for these people who serve, which can take a toll on many service members’ mental health, as well as contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
While nothing can replace the smell of a turkey baking in the oven or the taste of grandma’s pumpkin pie, the USO and the Kroger Family of Companies still wanted to be sure that the people who serve — and their families — know they are thought of and appreciated. So we did just that by hosting a dinner for more than 650 service members and families on Thanksgiving Day.
Who better to partner with the USO than Kroger — America’s largest grocer — for a Thanksgiving feast with all of the holiday favorites? Kroger is a long-time supporter of service members and military families, having contributed more than $41 million to the USO through corporate funds and customer donations – making it the largest cumulative donor to the USO in the organization’s 82-year history.
The day began at 8:00 a.m. for USO staff and volunteers, along with Kroger volunteers, including James Menees, Corporate Affairs Manager – Mid-Atlantic Division, Patty Leesman, Kroger’s Head of Philanthropy and Denise Osterhues, Kroger’s Senior Director – Sustainability and Community Engagement.
James volunteered alongside his wife, two daughters and other family members.
“Thanksgiving is a day to be grateful and give thanks. And I think it just brings home the fact of how thankful all of us should be for our military and for the commitment and time that they put into protecting our freedoms and enabling everyone here to enjoy Thanksgiving and spend time with their families,” James said.
“It wouldn’t happen without their dedication and the time they spent aboard the USS Bush, and also now, day in and day out, wearing the uniform and representing our country.”
Gathered in a cozy tent on the dock, and just under the shadow of the USS Bush, service members, military spouses and their children gathered together for a homecooked Thanksgiving meal together. Through outdoor lawn games and over shared tables, they were able to spend some time with one another and celebrate the holiday season, despite the demands of service.
The sailors of the USS George H.W. Bush are known colloquially as “Team Avenger” and describe their crew as the “Leaders, Teachers, Warriors and Ambassadors” of their ship, which captures the many roles they must play in their unique experience as service members at sea.
As Americans, we depend on the aircraft carriers’ approximately 5,000 service members to protect the freedom of the seas, maintain world safety and security and defend the interests of the United States and our allied partners. The USS George H.W. Bush is also the first ship to house a USO Center, allowing the USO to stand with our service members both figuratively and literally while they are out to sea.
The USO strengthens the well-being of service members and their families. Events like these allow service members to see with their own eyes and feel within their hearts that the USO and its supporters are with them no matter where they are.
So, as most Americans were at home Thanksgiving night wrapping up their leftovers, the USO and Kroger volunteers were wrapping up the event. It was a long day and certainly one to be remembered by everyone who took part.
“I enjoyed interacting and just spending time with our sailors who are so appreciative and so humble, and so committed to their role to this country,” James said.
To the crew of the USS George H.W. Bush and all of our U.S. military sailors this holiday season, we give thanks.
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