More than 90 family members and friends of U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard Sailors from across the country traveled to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling for their inaugural family day held on Aug. 13, at the guard’s headquarters.
“This is the first time I’ve seen him perform. He tells me everything that’s going on and what they do, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see him. I enjoy this a lot. It means everything,” said Tracey Wiser, mother of Seaman Tyler Wiser. “To be able to see what he does? He can tell me, but to actually see it, to me is really amazing.”
The concept for family day was derived by the guard’s senior staff from a tradition in the seagoing Navy that allows family and friends of a Sailor to get a glimpse into the real life and duties of their Sailor. This inaugural family day included a formation, pass-in-review for the presiding officer, Commandant, Naval District Washington, Rear Adm. Markham Rich, demonstrations by each of the guard’s individual units, a tour of their facility, and lunch.
“We tried to use a template of ‘Tiger Cruise’ and do the same thing here, to get the support of the family to come out and see the guardsmen and see what they do,” said the guard’s commanding officer, Navy Cmdr. John H. Giuseppe.
U.S. Navy ships will occasionally allow Sailors to bring guests, family members and friends which are called “Tigers,” on board their ship for a short period, perhaps as many as six days, to live with their Sailors in their Navy environment. Through the experience family and friends observe and experience firsthand things they and the general public would not ordinarily have open to them, and in so doing gain an appreciation for their Sailor, the Sailor’s unit, and more broadly the mission of the entire U.S. Navy.
Wiser grew up a short distance from Washington in nearby Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. While he gets home more frequently than most, usually bringing shipmates from the guard for weekend visits home, this was still a first look for his nearby family at what he does. Among his family in attendance was his grandfather, Vernon Cook, who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1977 on seven different ships, culminating his career as a dispersing clerk first class on recruiting duty in the Washington metro area.
Family day offered an unprecedented opportunity for families and friends of guardsmen near and far an unprecedented look into the life and duties of the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard.
“A lot of times we’re out performing high-visibility ceremonies. When we do those you don’t always have access for the public to come see those events. Maybe they’re inside the Pentagon or the Navy Yard, so it’s a challenge to see. So while we have some guardsmen who have been here for a long time, their families really haven’t had access to actually see them perform,” said Giuseppe.
Gary Saff traveled more than eight hours from Michigan the night prior to observe his son Seaman Bradley Saff perform. Later the same day of the ceremony, he and his family would be making the long drive back to Michigan so that he Gary could return to work by the next morning. When asked about the burden of such a long round trip for a relatively short opportunity to visit with and see his son, Saff remarked, “It was absolutely worth it. I’m very proud of him.”
Eddie Johnson of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who wore a “U.S. Navy Dad” tee-shirt for his daughter Fireman Brianna Johnson, was moved to see his daughter in action with the Ceremonial Guard. Johnson, a Marine Corps and Army veteran who served from 1978 to 1999, had wanted to join the U.S. Army’s Old Guard after joining the Army.
“I’m real proud to see her out here. It was very special to me,” said Johnson. “I told her one time I wanted to be an honor guard and the Army had the Old Guard. Being an old Marine you want to be the best you can. I never made the Old Guard, but watching her made me feel really proud to see her out here doing this with the Navy Ceremonial Guard.”
Giuseppe said that he believes the opportunity meant a lot to the families and the Sailors themselves.
“Now when they call home or e-mail home, perhaps they can further connect. For me, it’s a morale booster, it’s a force multiplier because when we call it ‘family day’ for the ceremonial guard, it’s not just because we’re bringing some families in, it’s because we are a family. And I want to bring that family to the guard.”
The event succeed in giving guardsmen and their families an opportunity to reconnect in a new way, and for the visitors to gain an even stronger appreciation for and pride in their Sailor and the Navy. The Sailors also exceeded their commander’s expectations for participation.
“We had approximately 90 guests. So we had a great turnout. Of course a few guardsmen had multiple family members, but by and large we had at least 50 guardsmen bringing family members on. I think it was a very successful turnout. We were hoping to get at least 50 and we nearly doubled that, so next year we hope to make it even bigger.”