JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville and the Northeast Florida Navy League Council hosted their seventh bi-annual Individual Augmentee (IA) Appreciation luncheon April 20 at NAS Jacksonville's Officers' Club.
Fifty-four IAs from the base and tenant commands along with several spouses were recognized during the event.
"Every day dedicated service members are being forward deployed on IA assignments either individually or as units to multiple locations around the world," said Personnel Specialist 1st Class (AW) Laquetta Robinson, Navy Reserve Component Command. "From Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Djibouti and Kuwait, our armed forces make daily sacrifices to ensure we are allotted the freedom and security we have fought for so long and hard over the years."
"Being forward deployed has both positive and negative aspects," said she continued. "Learning to make the best of the situation and turning those negatives into positives is what comes with time and personal growth. The most amazing positive experience in my opinion is how U.S. troops can go anywhere in the world and build a family structure from a group of almost total strangers and even after departure, keep those close bond intact for years and sometime a lifetime."
NAS Jacksonville Commanding Officer Capt. Jeffrey Maclay thanked the IAs and their families for their dedicated service.
"Today we are here to celebrate our Sailors who have gone out, flexible and engaged as part of our expeditionary forces who augment other units rather than being deployed as a detachment or on board a ship. These tours last anywhere from six months to a year or more and we are here today to recognize what you and your families have done for our country and the Navy," Maclay said. "Thank-you for your sacrifices and dedication to our nation."
He then introduced guest speaker, Commander, Navy Region Southeast, Rear Adm. Tim Alexander.
"Over 90,000 Sailors have served on an IA since just after 9/11. That is an astounding number to me. About one-third are from the active component and two-thirds are Reservists. Today, we have more than 9,000 Sailors serving on IAs and about one-half of those are Reservists. The Reservists have certainly picked up their share of the load as we support our national taskings," said Alexander.
"IAs serve in multiple roles, we have Sailors serving all over the globe doing phenomenal jobs. They are supporting troops in combat around the world. You never hear anything but positive comments from people in other services about the Sailors who went and served with them. You've made me incredibly proud to be part of the same team as you," he continued.
Alexander also paid tribute to the family members in attendance.
"I also know that deploying on an IA is extremely hard on the families. In our normal course of business, usually a whole unit picks up and deploys leaving behind a group of family members who can support and sustain one another," he added. "But when an IA deploys, their families are pretty much on their own, although I'm pleased to see that commands recognize the importance of reaching out to these families and are providing the support that they deserve. So to our family members, I thank-you for your sacrifice while your IA Sailor was deployed."
Lt. Cmdr. Ken Meehan, an orthopedic physician's assistant at Naval Hospital Jacksonville was one of the IAs recognized.
"I was recently deployed to a trauma hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Our job was to take care of casualties from the field. There were three other orthopedic surgeons and in a six-month timeframe, we conducted almost 1,800 surgical procedures and saved several lives. We also helped the local civilians who were wounded by enemy action," he said. "This was my fourth deployment and I was gone for about eight months. It was probably the most rewarding deployment I've ever had - we saved a lot of lives and it's quite an honor and very humbling to work with so many heroes."
Each IA was presented with a special plaque and coin from the Northeast Florida Navy League Council and thank-you letters from U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and U.S. Congressman Ander Crenshaw.
Each spouse was presented with a letter of appreciation and a rose.
"We started this event at NAS Jax in 2008 and have honored nearly 1,500 IAs and spouses. The program, through the Navy League, is now being held at bases throughout the Continental U.S. and Hawaii, said Navy League Florida Region Navy League President Bill Dudley. "It's important to recognize them because these men and women are deployed from their commands as an individual and were not getting any recognition when they returned home. So this event is pay tribute to them for their sacrifices."
While IA assignments may differ in location and mission, Robinson said all IAs should be proud.
"No matter what your IA experience was, be proud of what support you provided and know that in some way or form, your contribution to the fight did make a difference," Robinson told the audience.
For more news from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, visit www.navy.mil/local/nasjax/.