GUAM (NNS) -- Two weeks following the wrath of Super Typhoon Pongsona, Sailors and their families on Guam were still reeling from the impact of the storm, trying their best to recover from the damage.
While many families were still without potable water and electricity at their homes, plans for holiday cheer and festivities were put on the back-burner as recovery efforts became priority one.
Realizing that recovery efforts can be time consuming and that holiday spirits could use a boost, Santa Claus visited Sailors and their families on the island bringing Christmas cheer and a festive feast with all of the fixings.
Minus the red suit with white trim and fluffy white beard, this year Santa wore a clean-shaven face and the uniform of Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan’s (CNFJ) Regional Master Chief. CNOCM (SW/AW) Mike Driscoll was the driving force behind organizing "Operation Save the Holidays."
“We wanted to bring these Sailors a little relief and to show them that we care,” Driscoll stated. “These warriors and their families deserve this,” he said sincerely. “It’s not a matter of why should we do this, but how can we do this, and pull it off in short notice.”
The logistics of pulling off Operation Save the Holidays was nothing more than the U.S. Navy doing something it takes great pride in…taking care of its own. After receiving a telephone call from the U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters asking if CNFJ could put something together, the call for help went out.
“The response to help out was overwhelming,” Driscoll said. The Yokosuka Navy Exchange and Commissary were key supporters, providing everything needed to make the operation a success.
“If we had what was needed, we provided it,” said Mike Crippen, grocery manager at the Yokosuka Commissary. “This is all about pride and giving, rather than receiving. That’s what the holiday season is all about,” he said.
After receiving more than 3,000 pounds of turkey, one-half ton of both ham and beef, as well as enough ingredients for traditional holiday meal side dishes to feed more than 3,000 people, it was time to find a workforce to pull off the meal.
Master Chief Mess Management Specialist (SW) Mike Baker of USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) offered his expertise in providing food service to large numbers, as well as his mother’s secret recipe for cornbread stuffing. While he led the charge in assembling a crew of seasoned cooks to prepare the meal, the muscle in the kitchen was provided courtesy of Mess Management Specialist 1st Class (SW) Timothy Saxon, Baker’s right-hand man.
“I’m always willing to take on a new challenge,” Saxon said. “Especially when I’ll be helping out people in need. We all volunteered for this and want to be here to assist other families. It’s inspiring,” he said with a proud smile.
The rest of Santa’s “elves” came from a huge pool of volunteers from Yokosuka, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Naval Air Facility Misawa. Sixty-two Sailors, family members and Department of Defense civilians, ranging from a family nurse practitioner to an undesignated airman, stepped up to the plate to provide help.
Small commands like the Yokosuka Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit, large commands such as Kitty Hawk, and just about all others in between were represented in this project.
One Sailor cancelled his flight back to Ohio, where he planned to spend Christmas with his family. “I wanted to help somebody else have a good Christmas,” said Construction Electrician Constructionman Chris Pamfil, a Seabee stationed at Naval Air Facility, Atsugi. “Home is where you make it and so is Christmas,” added the recently selected Junior Sailor of the Quarter. “I’m willing to celebrate the holidays later, so I can help make the families in Guam happier for a day.”
Two days after the initial telephone call from Hawaii, Driscoll left Japan with a group of highly motivated volunteers and all of the food and supplies necessary to feed an entire community. Like Santa touring the globe in a sleigh pulled by eight trusty reindeer, Commander Fleet Air Western Pacific selflessly provided transportation via a C-130 Hercules and C-9 Skytrain.
After arriving in Guam, it was time to work and put Operation Save the Holidays into action. This required the volunteers to transport all of the food and supplies from a refrigerated truck on the pier, to the Galley of USS Frank Cable (AS 40), where the meal would be prepared.
The warm temperatures didn’t slow progress or damper spirits. “It’s hard work,” said Storekeeper 2nd Class (SW) Florendo Callejas of Defense Distribution Depot Yokosuka, Japan. “We have a great group, and we’re having fun while helping other families,” he continued. “We’re doing what Americans do best,” added USS Chancellorsville (CG 63) Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 2nd Class (SW) Alexandria Jackson. “We help those in need without expecting anything in return,” she said.
As the point man on this evolution, all hands turned to Driscoll for orders and each day’s plan of attack. His commanding and thick Flushing, Queens, New York, accent served as a cue for volunteers to listen up for instructions. That same booming voice was also heard giving constant thanks and praises. Driscoll kept his troops motivated with phrases like “Hee Yaw,” which became the group’s collective battle cry and “You’re my hero,” a statement he made at least once a day to each volunteer.
“It’s nice to see the master chiefs, chiefs and officers here in the trenches, sweating and cooking like everybody else,” said Airman Brandon Escobar of Naval Air Facility, Atsugi. “It’s awesome to see the Navy spirit as we’ve all come together to get the job done,” he finished.
In order to feed more than 3,000 people beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday morning, the cooks and a handful of kitchen volunteers began cooking at about 6 p.m. the evening before. For more than 17 hours, Saxon led the charge.
“The hardest part was staggering the turkeys and ham,” Saxon said. After pointing out that the Frank Cable’s galley is equipped to cook for a group only half the size of what they were shooting for, he said a lot of planning and timing went into ensuring all the food was cooked and ready for the first seating.
Sailors and their families stationed in Guam steadily flowed through the meal site, enjoying good food, great conversation and perfect weather. “The food tastes great and we really appreciate it,” smiled Machinist Mate 2nd Class (SS) Gary Crossfield, who is attached to USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN 705). “We wouldn’t be able to do something like this at home right now,” he continued. “Without electricity and water, if you can’t cook it on the barbecue or eat it out of a can, you can’t eat it,” he finished.
“It means a lot to know that people in other parts of the world are concerned about us,” said Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW) Rodney Johnson of Naval Hospital Guam. “We’ve been trying to make the best of a bad situation here and this meal helps bring the Christmas spirit back to the island.”
For related news, visit the Commander Naval Forces Japan Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cnfj.