Editor’s note: This story appeared in Sound Publishing’s special section, Military Appreciation Day 2016, edited by Leslie Kelly. Kitsap County’s Military Appreciation Day celebration is planned for April 16 in the Kitsap Pavilion at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. The event is free and open to the public.
Tricia Reece and her family often set an extra place or two at the table on holidays. It’s something that the family has done for years.
“I remember my mom telling me that, when she was little, her family would host an active-duty military member for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner,” said Reece, who is a member of the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee (MAC). “A few years ago, I got to thinking about that and decided we should do that.”
Because Reece served on the MAC, she had an “in” with sailors and Marines stationed at Naval Base Kitsap Keyport and Bangor. One of their commanding officers was also on the committee. She reached out to him and he provided her with a list of sailors and Marines, most who serve as part of SWFPAC, Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific, who couldn’t go home for holidays and needed a local family to share a meal with.
“They often times like to come in pairs,” she said. “That way they don’t feel so strange going to a place that they don’t know.”
Her motivation, besides the family history of supporting the military, was just to provide those serving with a family atmosphere at holidays.
“When you think about it, most of these guys are just 18 or 19, and for some, these are the first holidays away from home,” she said. “I just didn’t want to think about them sitting in the barracks all alone. It’s just nice for them to have a place to go for a home-cooked meal.”
And, when she found out that there were more sailors and Marines who needed a place to go than what she could handle, she recruited friends and others to also host military members for holiday meals.
One of them was Amee Graham.
“I come from a patriotic family,” Graham said. “I just knew this was something I wanted to do.”
Having hosted a number of guests in the past three years, Graham remembered the first two — a sailor and a Marine — who came to dinner.
“They were just out of boot camp and they missed their families,” she said. “I think having them was a great way to share not only a meal, but also the community. Being with us helped them know more about the area.”
Beside a holiday meal, their guests were included in a very special holiday event — the ugly sweater holiday photo.
She and her three children continued to keep in touch with their “military sons.”
“We’d take them skiing and on family trips,” she said. “They became part of our family. Sometimes, it was just coming over to play X-Box with my one son, or even taking him to play baseball.”
Events also included taking her son to get his haircut. She even cared for one of them after he had surgery; he stayed with her family while on the mend.
With most of the sailors and Marines she’s “adopted,” she’s had the opportunity to meet their parents and siblings when they’ve come to visit.
“And we’d FaceTime with them at the holidays,” she said.
When it comes time for her military sons to leave Kitsap County for another assignment, it’s hard to say goodbye, she said.
“It’s kind of like we’ve watched them grow up,” she said, noting that most of them have stayed in touch after moving away.
While the match helped the military members feel included in family adventures, it also helped her and her family, Graham said.
“We really did it just for them so they could be with a family at the holidays,” Graham said. “But I took advantage of the time to tell my kids to think about how these young men and women have given up being with their families, and were serving in the military away from home in order to keep our country safe. If it weren’t for them and people like them, we wouldn’t go to bed every night feeling safe, like we do in this country.”
Although the program is not an organized program and is not sponsored by the military, families who are interested in hosting sailors or Marines for holiday meals can do so by contacting the master chiefs, sergeant majors or chaplains at the base at 360-396-4800, or the chambers’ MAC committee through Reece at 360-394-4150.