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Cooks From The Valley, a California-based volunteer group, brought dozens of volunteer cooks and more than four tons of prime 12-ounce center cut steaks to feed service members and civilian staff at the Washington Navy Yard (WNY), May 8.

Group founder Tom Anton, who has served steaks at more than 50 military installations around the world, wanted to treat WNY service members and staff to a barbecue following the tragic events at the Yard last September.

“We are here today for the Navy Yard family,” said Vice Adm. William Hilarides, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), where the attack took place. “That Navy Yard family has been important to all of us over the last seven months. We were forced together by a terrible tragedy, and so this opportunity is a great one for that entire Navy Yard family.”

Anton and more than 30 volunteer cooks joined dozens of WNY support staff to grill more than 11,000 steak meals, complete with baked potatoes and salad.

Anton began grilling steaks for the military 25 years ago, and has not stopped. He said grilling for service members, whether in combat zones or stateside, is his way of giving back to the military.

“I thought it would be nice to bring a taste of home to them,” Anton said.

The group is neither political nor commercial, Anton added, but simply about bringing steak and seeing the appreciation of the Sailors in person. “We get the opportunity to give back in a unique way,” he said.

Bill Burnette, a resident of Virginia Beach, Virginia, traveled to Washington to man one of the dozens of grills lined up in Admiral Willard Park after contacting Cooks From The Valley to volunteer.

“I’m personally vested in this because these Sailors are my friends,” Burnette said as he loaded his grill with freshly-seasoned steaks.”They’re my neighbors, down at Virginia Beach and across the country. What they do for us around the world means so much, and we can do this to give back to them.”

Thousands of people flocked to the park for the meal and entertainment by the Navy Band’s blue-grass group, Country Current. WNY Sailors and staff also welcomed a group of World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans from a Kern County, California-based Honor Flight.

Anton spent the day overseeing the operation and greeting guests, and gave all the credit for the event to the volunteers who kept the grills going for hours to meet demand.

“He’s got almost 35 volunteers here today who are incredible patriots who just want to support the military,” said Lt. Ben Fehr from NAVSEA, who helped organize the event. “All they’re here to do is support us and recognize the folks who, on a daily basis, do the best they can do to provide the Navy with the support it needs. That’s what they’re here for and that’s what this is about, to support the 18,000 workforce here at the Navy Yard.”

For more photos from the event and to keep up to date on events happening throughout Naval District Washington, visit www.facebook.com/NavDistWash.