BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- For Personnel Specialist Seaman George Edwards, the holiday glow on Naval Hospital Bremerton’s (NHB) Quarterdeck is more than just seasonal decorations.
As one of NHB’s staff deployed this year, Edwards and other returned personnel were acknowledged for their deployments on shipboard assignments supporting Pacific Partnership and Enduring Promise and to such far-flung locales as Iraq and Afghanistan with the command’s annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 7, 2018.
“I really had no idea this was going to take place. It is really an honor to be recognized here,” said Edwards, a Mobile, Ala. native who took part in Pacific Partnership 2018, the annual multi-lateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission.
The event, organized by NHB’s Pastoral Care Department, provided staff, family members and friends the opportunity to actively take part in remembering those currently deployed, those returned from deployment and those who will deploy by appreciating their service and sacrifice.
“Naval Hospital Bremerton continues to support our fighting forces by sending outstanding Sailors on deployments to serve and protect our nation,” said Religious Program Specialist Priscilla Vasquez, of Pastoral Care department and master of ceremony.
The ceremony featured placing an ornament on the holiday tree for all deployed staff members, with each ornament indicating appreciation for those who have made sacrifices the past year.
“NHB would like to extend our greatest sense of gratitude and compassion to you and your families, especially to those of you who have loved one currently deployed. As we unite around this beautiful tree, let us rejoice over those who have returned home safely, pray for those who are currently deployed, and remember the sacrifices of all those who have served,” Vasquez added.
Currently NHB staff members deployed are Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Carness to Africa, Lt. Lisa O’Driscoll assigned to USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Piotor Juchniewicz in Kuwait, HM1 Nicholas Behel in Afghanistan, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Tyler Borchardt in Afghanistan, HM2 Erin Shellywoody assigned to USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Nicholas Fouch in Afghanistan, and HM3 Carlos Rosario, HM3 Daniel Gonzalez and Hospitalman Benjamin Riley on Okinawa.
Those returned from deployment are Capt. Brian Smoley from Iraq, Pacific Partnership 2018 returnees Cmdr. Roseanna Chandler, Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Needham, Lt. Rohan Jairam and Logistics Specialist 1st Class Avery Jackson, and Edwards; Lt. Cmdr. Brendan O’Brien from Africa and HM2 Connor O’Keefe from Afghanistan.
The tree-lighting portion of the ceremony followed the placement of the decorations and that simple act represented a trilogy – light, faith and hope – that embodied the entire ceremony. The lights that adorn the tree are reminders of how the light of faith can dispel the darkness of a person’s fears, uncertainty and isolation. The tree itself, with the branches arching towards the heavens, has been a sign of faith for many throughout the ages. As a ‘tree of life,’ it endures the seasonal cycle from life to death to life again, inviting worshipers to experience the spiritual renewal and hope that the holidays offer.
“There are a few key points why this ceremony is so significant. It’s a reflection of our diversity, and who we are as a team, with the tree itself providing something for everyone, the varied decorations representing the uniqueness of our diverse contributions from which we draw from. It is also very significant to happen on December 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, helping us honor our past heroes, along with the present and the future. For all those who have answered the call of duty, thank you. This day is for you,” said Capt. Jeffrey Bitterman, Naval Hospital Bremerton commanding officer.
Capt. Bitterman was joined by Teresa Dibley of Naval Base Kitsap Fleet and Family Service Center to present returned staff member with a certificate of appreciation and handmade quilt dedicated to recognize the service members’ sacrifices.
“The certificate would have really been enough. The handmade quilt is an honor to receive,” Edwards said.
The tree will remain lit throughout the holiday season, leaving a perpetual light on for those still deployed and in harm’s way.
For more news from Naval Hospital Bremerton, visit www.navy.mil/local/nhb/.