It was a busy week for Navy wife Linda Port. First, she was recognized as the Military Spouse of the Year for Hampton Roads, an honor she received during the 3rd Annual Heroes at Home Luncheon held May 10 at the Founder’s Inn in Virginia Beach. The event was sponsored by The Flagship and Military Newspapers of Virginia.
As the top winner among 15 finalists and 240 nominations, Port received three rooms of furniture from USA Discounters, a $4,000 voucher from USAA and USAA Travel for a vacation cruise (that doesn’t involve a ship colored haze grey), a year’s supply of shoes from Rack Room Shoes, a Vera Bradley tote bag courtesy of Your Local Chevrolet Dealers, and brunch for two at the Swan Terrace, courtesy of Founder’s Inn.
The other 14 finalists included Danielle Aillet, Julie Alvarez, Deniece “Dee” Brown, Mary-Trippe Everett, Jennifer Lehnen, John Maxwell, Peggy Simmer, Stephen Williams and Laurie Winter, all U.S. Navy spouses; Nichole Donnelly, U.S. Marine Corps spouse; Wendy Ericson and Angela Schminke, both U.S. Air Force spouses; Lisa McKean, U.S. Army spouse, and Lisa Tarrants, U.S. Coast Guard spouse.
All of the finalists received a gift bag filled with goodies from Advanced Auto Parts, Your Local Chevy Dealers, Entercom Radio Group, Military.com, Navy Federal, United Concordia, USAA and USA Discounters.
Keynote speaker Deborah Kloeppel of Military Spouse magazine warned never to underestimate the unsung and unseen military spouses.
These are the same spouses who have made a science of waiting in line at the post office with two large boxes and two children in tow, she said. Or who decide to remodel the house while the spouse is on deployment, or who realizes body pillows don’t replace a warm body next to them in bed, or seeing a spouse on a web cam isn’t the same as in person.
“You know you are the stronger person, while you are hanging the flags in your yards and slapping 100 magnets on your cars. Please know you are appreciated,” Kloeppel said.
Military spouses are the ones who will show up at a spouse meeting all wearing the same pair of shoes because there is only one store in town that services the installation.
“We love our service members,” Kloeppel said. “We’re in it for the long haul…and U-Haul.”
Command Master Chief Jon Port of Pre-Commissioning Unit George H.W. Bush, said his wife supported him going into the Navy, and has throughout his 21-year career. Their oldest daughter, Sarah, is married to Cryptologic Technician Collection 2nd Class (CTR2) Darrell Eltringham, who has just been assigned to Hawaii.
“She’s just amazing,” Sarah said. “Anything I had to do for school, costumes, choir, she was always there, very hands-on and involved. She enjoys volunteering, not for the glory, but if she doesn’t volunteer, who’s going to volunteer? That was just her way.
“She’s my living example on how to help me in my new life as a military spouse,” she added. “I want to emulate her. She’s the best example I could need.”
Linda was stunned at the wide variety of gifts. “This is the biggest bonus we’ve ever gotten,” she said.
White House reception
The gifts kept on coming. The day after the luncheon, Linda was honored at a White House reception as one of six recipients of the President’s Volunteer Service Awards. As part of Military Spouse Day, all 15 Heroes at Home finalists were invited to the White House ceremony and reception, where President George W. Bush spoke and stayed afterward to greet guests.
“Today, we honor six outstanding Americans who represent the very best of what volunteering means,” President Bush said. “And we honor the achievements of military spouses all across the nation. You cannot be a nation with a volunteer army unless you honor the military families, and that’s what we’re doing today.”
Bush earned a laugh from the packed audience in the East Room that “military spouses do not raise their right hands and take an oath of enlistment. Yet, their service begins as soon as they say two words: “I do.”
Bush singled out Linda’s remarkable 19 different houses and 14 school districts during her husband’s career in the Navy. He mentioned her 15,000 volunteer hours, and serving as an advocate for 1,200 sailors and their spouses. He talked of the sacrifices of being both parents during deployments, yet still finding ways to help others as well. Linda’s husband has been gone on deployments for a total of nine years.
“This kind of life makes it hard to lay down roots, which is why it’s so important that military families find strength and stability in each other,” he said.
Bush didn’t get through the ceremony without at least one verbal trip over his tongue. Calling Martha Washington the “husband” of the first George W., Bush explained the legacy of military spouses goes back to the earliest days of America, when Martha organized sick wards for wounded soldiers and made visits to battlefields to boost the morale of the troops.
Volunteer award recipients raised $400,000 to help injured service members, coached Little League or served on a variety of organizations in small communities.
“This is just a sampling of the good and important work performed every day by military spouse all across the country,” Bush said. “I want you all to know that your work is noticed, your work is appreciated, and your work inspires our nation.
“I know nothing can compensate for the sacrifices you endure while your spouse is away,” Bush continued. “But you also got to know that our entire country stands with you. We love you and we respect you. America has seen and survived many wars over many generations. What has remained constant is the love we have for each other, the mobility of duty, and the strength that our men and women in uniform find in their heroes who serve as home.”
As each of the recipients received their award, Bush spoke directly to them before handing them the certificate. When it was Linda’s turn, she nervously smoothed the sweater she was wearing, and Bush did the same to put her at ease. At one point, he leaned over as whispered something in her ear, smiling as he did so.
“When they mentioned I did volunteer work as a librarian, he leaned over and said ‘I like librarians,’” Linda said. First Lady Laura Bush, who was unable to attend the ceremony, was a librarian.
“He is such a gracious man, a typically ordinary guy,” Linda said. “He looks you eye-to-eye and it’s very personal. It’s not just a bunch of pat niceties where he doesn’t even look at you. I kept thinking, ‘pinch me, this isn’t real.’”
Linda had a lot more in common with Bush than being a volunteer librarian. Her husband is the command master chief on board Pre-commissioning Unit George H. W. Bush, the newest aircraft carrier that honors Bush’s father and the 41st president, George H.W. Bush. It will be commissioned into service in 2008.
Among the dignitaries who attended the reception were Gen. Pete Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chief of Naval Operations; Gen. Jim Conway, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Gen. George Casey, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and their wives.
Linda saw a few familiar faces. Several of the Hampton Roads Heroes at Home finalists braved the traffic to make the late afternoon ceremony. She also got the opportunity to speak with Diana Campa, and her husband, Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Joe Campa Jr., whom she met during a tour in Groton.
“It’s just overwhelming and very flattering, such an honor,” Linda said, still flustered several days after the events. “What a wonderful thing to be recognized. But that’s not why we do it. I used to be that young military spouse. If I can make the next one’s life a little easier, then that’s a wonderful thing.”