Race Track Honors USS Ronald Reagan Sailors

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

DEL MAR, Calif., Aug. 24, 2006 - Del Mar Thoroughbred Club pulled out all the stops yesterday as it saluted more than 1,000 sailors of the USS Ronald Reagan just returned from a deployment to the Persian Gulf.

The racetrack, 20 miles north of San Diego, celebrated USS Ronald Reagan Day to honor the sailors who returned home six weeks ago from the new carrier's first deployment. In addition to free admission, parking and food for crewmembers and their guests in a special VIP tent along the track, the track staff dedicated one of the day's races to them.

The sailors gathered in the track's winner's circle just as the fourth race of the day was about to begin, and others lined up along the starting gates. As the announcer acknowledged the sailors' contribution to the global war on terror over the track's loudspeaker system, the crowd burst into applause and the sailors, all in their Navy white uniforms, exchanged ear-to-ear smiles.

Then, after the traditional "Boots and Saddles" bugle call, followed by a rendition of "Anchors Aweigh," the race was on. The 4 horse, Warning Zone, edged out the other nine horses in the race, and the Reagan's captain, Capt. Terry Kraft, presented the winner's cup trophy to the horse's owners and shook hands with its jockey, Corey Nakatani.

Nationally syndicated radio talk show host Michael Reagan, son of the former president for whom the carrier is named, joined the sailors in the winner's circle, shaking their hands and thanking them for their service.

Regardless of activity on the track, and all betting aside, sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan agreed they were the day's big winners.

"It's awesome," said Petty Officer 1st Class Lee Medvec, a storekeeper aboard the carrier who called the day's activities "a great experience for me."

"It makes me feel great," said the 16-year sailor. "It makes me feel appreciated and that what I do has meaning."

Petty Officer 2nd Class Janell Zamora, an aviation support and equipment technician, called yesterday's event the ultimate homecoming. "For us it's like a big welcome home," she said. "It's like a big hug."

"This is really nice," agreed Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Davis, an aviation maintenance administrator, as he stretched out at one of the tables set up under the tent for the sailors.

Davis' wife, Anissa, and two children, ages 4 and 7, joined him in the shade between races and snacked on food set out by the racetrack staff.

Anissa said she's proud of the prestige that comes from her husband's assignment to the Navy's newest and largest aircraft carrier and feels proud to see him and his fellow crewmembers praised for what they do. "When I see 1,000 of them in white, being recognized, it's a real honor," she said.

Chief Petty Officer Edward Carde, a maintenance chief aboard the Reagan, said the outpouring reflects strong public support for the men and women in uniform. "You can tell we're appreciated for the time we were out there and the work we're doing," he said. "You see it everywhere - ribbons and flags on cars, signs along the road. No matter how big or small, it's pretty nice. It means a lot."

Terrorist-related incidents in the news only increase that support and appreciation, he said. "It reinforces why we're out there and why what we're doing is important," he said.

Cmdr. Brent Scott, the command's chaplain, said USS Ronald Reagan Day sent a special meaning to the crew, especially the young 18- and 19-year-old sailors just returned from their very first deployment. "To come back and have a group like this honor them means so much," he said. "It's a way of saying 'Thank you' in a way that's tangible."

C.P. (Mac) McBride, assistant director of media for Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, called yesterday's event the continuation of summer-long military tributes that have honored every branch of the service.

A Vietnam veteran who served in the Marine Corps, McBride experienced firsthand what it felt like to return home from combat feeling unappreciated. "For that war, the military didn't get their strokes," he said.

McBride said he's glad the American public has turned around and now shows its support for its men and women in uniform. "They recognize that these military guys go out and do a very dirty and tough job," he said. "They deserve our salute and encouragement. And this is just a say of saying 'Thank you for a job well done.'"

For more information about how other Americans are showing support for military members and ways to participate, visit the Defense Department's "America Supports You" Web site.

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