SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (NNS) -- Sailors from Precommissioning Unit (PCU) Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) joined members of the United States Navy League, Santa Barbara and Hampton Roads councils, to mark the one-year countdown to the commissioning of Ronald Reagan with a gala celebration May 3.
The event, called the Western White House Gala, was the capstone to a four-day visit to Santa Barbara, Calif., by Ronald Reagan crew members.
The visiting crew members included the PCU commanding officer, Capt. Bill Goodwin; Command Master Chief Bob Conklin; Sailor of the Year, Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handler) 1st Class (SW/AW) Ian Russell; and Blue Jacket of the Year, Fireman Janelle Ortiz. During their visit, they met with members of the Navy League who have volunteered countless hours to help coordinate the commissioning of Ronald Reagan scheduled for May 10, 2003.
While in Southern California the Sailors toured the Ronald Reagan Library and the Ronald Reagan Ranch. "We love the Sailors and love hosting these events for our crew," said Connie Los, president of the Navy League, Santa Barbara Council, whose council hosted the crew during the visit and sponsored the gala in Santa Barbara. "We have a lot of people working really hard to make this a first-class event and look forward to future events as we move closer to next year's commissioning ceremonies."
Los also mentioned the Santa Barbara Council is not alone in their support of the commissioning and the ship. "We've received so much great cooperation and support from many organizations who want to help us including our Navy League partners in Hampton Roads, the Ronald Reagan Foundation and the citizens of Santa Barbara," she said.
While visiting the Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Sailors met Michael Reagan, President Reagan's son. Michael Reagan thanked the members of the crew for their visit and for their service to the nation. Reagan also said he looked forward to joining them and the rest of the Ronald Reagan Sailors in October for crew move-aboard ceremonies currently planned for Oct. 30.
Sailors saw a piece of the Berlin Wall at the library "dedicated to President Reagan for his unwavering dedication to humanitarianism and freedom over communism through his presidency." The piece of the wall, which is 10 feet tall and weighs 6,000 pounds, sits just outside the library overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
After looking at the wall, Ortiz said, "It's really an honor to serve aboard a ship named after someone who did so many things for our country and the world. Ortiz, who was born in 1980, said she doesn't remember a lot of President Reagan's time in office so visiting the library and museum helped her learn about why America's newest aircraft carrier is named after the nation's 40th commander in chief.
"I learned a lot about President Reagan and look forward to sharing what I learned with my shipmates and family," said Ortiz, a Boston native.
Jennifer Sternaman, an archivist at the Ronald Reagan library, escorted the Sailors through the library where more than 50 million documents and 1.5 million photographs are protected. These documents would stretch 24,500 feet and fill approximately 15 semi-trucks.
"Our job is to slow down the effects of time on these priceless treasures," said Sternaman. "These documents are stored in a special temperature-controlled environment of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 45 percent humidity. Many documents are available to members of the public upon request."
"I was impressed by how big the library is," said Russell, a Rochester, Minn., native. "I expected to see a lot of books in the library, but there are a lot of other interesting things to see, especially the portions of the museum that show the president's life and the effect his leadership had on the country. Of course, meeting Mr. (Michael) Reagan made the visit even more special."
Sailors also toured President Reagan's ranch, Rancho del Cielo. Reagan purchased the 688-acre ranch while he was Governor of California and this was his only private residence while serving in the White House.
Marilyn Fisher, curator of the ranch, explained that President Reagan personally built most of the improvements to the ranch including an addition to the home, a fireplace, and the tile throughout the house, a lake, the property fence and the steps leading to the tack house. "Even though President Reagan no longer lives at the ranch, you can still feel his presence when you're here," she said.
"I got a better appreciation for how much President Reagan enjoyed being here (at the ranch) and what this place meant to him and Mrs. Reagan," said Russell.
Honoring President and Mrs. Reagan and providing support to the commissioning crew are two of the priorities for the U.S. Navy League, Santa Barbara and Hampton Roads councils, and the gala to date has been the most public form of declaring that support.
"This visit and especially the Western Whitehouse Gala helped us show the public our devotion to supporting our crew and their commissioning," said Los.
Vice Adm. Albert H. Konetzni Jr., deputy and chief of staff for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, was the guest speaker for the event and told more than 400 guests that he was honored to have served in a Navy that is the product of President Reagan's vision for a strong defense. "Peace through strength was an important part of President Reagan's time in office, and it is fitting that it is also the ship's motto," he said.
A.C. Lyles, a special guest at the gala and long-time friend of President Reagan, said he appreciates the Navy honoring President and Mrs. Reagan by naming such an important ship in honor of President Reagan. "I know your Sailors will serve our nation proudly aboard this ship just as President Reagan served our nation proudly as president," he said.
Captain Bill Goodwin, commanding officer of PCU Ronald Reagan, told guests at the gala that the support of the crew by the Navy League is crucial to helping Sailors who serve aboard ships at sea and especially important to the success of the commissioning.
"Thanks to the support of the Navy League, our Sailors' lives aboard this great warship will be better," he said.
"The 'East meets West' theme is an example of the cooperative venture we have to help make the ceremony and other events surrounding the commissioning a world class affair," said Goodwin. "Just as President Reagan brought our nation together during his time as our 40th commander in chief, it is fitting that these two Navy League councils along with countless other Navy League councils around our great country will bring together this nation to honor President Reagan's legacy and help cherish Mrs. Reagan's sponsorship."
For more information on PCU Ronald Reagan, go to http://www.reagan.navy.mil, or to the Reagan NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn76.