Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Navy Ball

Hello All - October is the birthday of the US Navy, and so our AUTEC Navy Base has an annual 'Navy Ball' in October and this year I was invited to lead the Benediction prior to the meal (an expected benefit of having the XO (Executive Officer) on the base converting to Catholicism and in our RCIA program).

This is a very serious, very gala event on the base and they hold nothing back to make sure this is THE event of the year. They bring in guest chefs from the US (actually these Chefs donate their time to come at no cost to recognize the service of our military). This year the Admiral for Under-Sea Warfare was the keynote speaker.

To create a space with the dignity this event requires they complete redecorate a building on the base that normally is the local bar. They completely cover all the walls with white paper and using streamers, black silouette cut-outs, and black and white WW II Navy pictures they create an incredible setting. This corner table should give you some idea of what I mean.

The base turned out in full dress whites for this event and you can imagine how impressive it was with every ribbon and medal prominently displayed on the chests of these service men.

For me, I was surprised at how nervous I was to say the benediction in front of this crowd. Knowing everyone would be in dress uniforms and the wives in gowns what to wear was an issue for Ginni and I (I actually only have 1 tie). Ginni knew about this so she brought a more formal dress when she came back from the States, I on the other hand decided my best option was to wear my roman collar - not something I usually do.

We arrived at the base in time for our Saturday evening service (which we moved up from 6 to 4:30 so we could arrive at the Ball on time). There was about a half hour of cocktails and small talk before we were called to take our seats.

The color guard marched in the side door with all the formality you can possibly imagine. It really was very well done and after they had put the US flag, the Navy flag, the AUTEC flag, and the MIA flag into their stands a female officer came forward and sang a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem. Then it was time for the Benediction (gulp). I went to the podium, asked everyone to join me in prayer and every head bowed. From that point on it was the Holy Spirit but I was blown away, and rather humbled, when one of the officers on Base sent me this pic.

The XO led a ceremony recognizing all those who had been killed in action, followed by the Base Commander's welcoming remarks and his introduction of the Admiral. He gave a wonderful address, recalling not only the birth of the Navy, but also major events in the history of the Navy from John Paul Jones to the current nuclear powered submarines. Then it was the 'call to chow' and the food was rolled out - and what a feast it was! Chefs from the US donate their time to honor our men in uniform and it was absolutely fabulous. Here is a pic of our table and a bit of the ballroom so you get some perspective on the number of people who attended.

Dessert was next and, just like the meal, it was delicious. What was fun about this was the cutting of the cake. Traditionally the person with the least service time cuts the cake with the person with the longest service time. So the XO started a countdown - everyone with 2 years or less, please stand. A group stand and he asks 'those 18 months or less', people sit. 'Those 12 months or less', people sit. Eventually it fell to a young Ensign. Now that we had the person with the least service it was time to find the Senior person in the room. The XO started the countdown with all those having over 25 years and peoples scattered around the room stand. 'Those with 26 years', people sit, eventually the finalists are the Base Commander and the Admiral at the head table, and this one man in the middle of the room. Now let me describe this sailor. He is clearly career Navy, his head is shaved, his chest is full of medals, now as the years click off, and he remains standing, all the sailors in the room shout "Yo Senior Chief!" another year is called, he remains standing, "Yo Senior Chief!", again and again, "Yo Senior Chief!" it was fabulous - especially when the Admiral sat down!

Inevitably the Base Commander came out on top with 30 years. Here is the pic of the XO handing his sword to the Ensign. From left to right it is the Base Commander, the Ensign, the Admiral and the XO. It was a great time and we are thrilled we were invited to attend.

After dessert there were a 'series' of ceremonial toasts. It was good that each table had 2 bottles of wine, just to get through the series! After the toasts were completed all Navy personnel were commanded to stand, and they did. What followed was a rendition of 'Anchors Aweigh' that was absolutely inspiring - no music, no song-sheets, just these men and women far from home showing their pride in serving in the US Navy. Let me say a word about that. These folks are part of the US military and, when called upon, they will fight for our nation. What these men and women do at AUTEC, however, is create test scenarios for the men and women in the military, and their equipment, ensuring that if called upon they'll be ready. In a large part, their job is to make sure their readiness acts as a deterrent to having to fight. AUTEC's role, in ensuring our NAVY is the best, is to deter our having to prove it. It is with that mindset that AUTEC works to ensure the peace. Enough said.
As we were leaving I met one of the Chefs and we talked a bit.
He was keenly aware that he has been blessed in life and being able to donate his time and talents to pull off an event like this was an honor. We talked a little about what we do on the base and with the local Bahamian people (I try not to miss an opportunity to evangelize). With virtually no prompting on my part he said that if I could stay in touch with him, next year he'd like to come a few days early and provide a meal for a local Bahamian community. My thoughts flashed to the Haitians we serve up north and how they'd react to chocolate covered strawberries and a true gourmet meal. We'll see what happens.
Clearly, this has been a rather different experience for us here on Andros - but one that we thoroughly enjoyed. Till next time - pray for us, and we'll pray for you.

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