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‘Holiday Salute’ Details Military Dedication, Sacrifice

Mike Gooding, WVEC-TV, ABC affiliate Norfolk, Va.

The following post is written by Mike Gooding, the military and political reporter for WVEC TV-13, the ABC affiliate in Norfolk, Va.  An award-winning journalist, Gooding has covered the military in Hampton Roads for more than 20 years. During that time he’s been a primary contributor to WVEC’s annual broadcast holiday salute to the military, telling stories about the dedication and sacrifice of Sailors and their families. As a long time supporter of the Navy the below post describes some of the things he’s seen and why he feels the broadcast is an important project.

From a desolate desert in the sub-Saharan African nation of Djibouti, to the flight deck of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea launching combat sorties into Afghanistan, to a remote mountain top near what used to be the de-militarized zone in Vietnam, U.S. Navy personnel have been thousands of miles away from home doing their jobs during the Christmas seasons through the years, and having their efforts documented in a television special called, “Holiday Salute.”

The show airs on WVEC-TV, the ABC affiliate in Norfolk, and in 2011 is now in its 26th year. It will be broadcast on Saturday, Dec. 24, at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, Dec. 25, at 11:30 a.m., and it will be streamed on WVEC.COM.

The project began in 1986, and has taken WVEC crews to destinations well familiar to U.S. military personnel such as Haifa, Israel and, Bahrain, Sigonella, Sicillly and Rome, Italy. The idea was and is, to bridge the miles between the forward-deployed troops and their loved ones back on the home front.

The show has spanned seminal events in the late-20th and-early-21st centuries, including the Cold War, Operation Desert Storm, the Kosovo War, 9/11, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The show encompassed the administrations of five commanders-in-chief: Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama; all the while, telling the story through the eyes of the people on the front lines.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) gets into the holiday spirit.

“Holiday Salute,” is the brainchild of WVEC anchor and reporter Joe Flanagan, from when the program was initially called, “Navy Christmas.”  He has gone forward with the troops numerous times since the first show back in 1986. Perhaps one of his most memorable moments came when he tagged along with a group of Norfolk-based sailors one year as they attended Midnight Mass at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II. Joe has hosted the show every year since its inception. He returns for another tour of duty this year, along with WVEC TV-13 Anchors Vanessa Coria and Sandra Parker.

Back in 1997, I spent an evening with Sailors from the Norfolk-based, nuclear guided-missile cruiser USS South Carolina(CGN 37) in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The young enlisted personnel were thousands of miles away from home at the holidays, and the idea was to just get them away from the ship for a good-hearted night of liberty. Truth be told, photographer Bryan Barbee and I may have had more fun than the Sailors did.

HMC Rodel Salazar hugs his son aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) before deploying.

In 2007, the program focused not on combat, but on spreading the peace at Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti.  There, Navy personnel and their peers from the other branches were engaged in nation-building.  One day, WVEC cameras captured joint training between American forces and soldiers from the Djiboutian Army. They were drilled in marksmanship and perimeter security, at the base of a mountain range near the border of Somalia. Later, we documented simple acts of human kindness, as American forces delivered care packages to a girls school, and gently rocked babies at a local orphanage.

Recent years have brought changes. With the Department of Defense moving towards more joint operations, we decided to change the show’s name to reflect all branches of the service: “Holiday Salute.” Since the recession of 2008, the program has turned inward, focusing on the units stateside, as they prepare to deploy, and on their families stoking the home fires while they are gone. The commitment remains the same, to try and bring the nation’s warriors and their loved ones a little closer at a special time of the year, to thank them for their sacrifice, and to share their stories of dedication and duty with the civilian taxpaying public who support them. We think, so far, it’s been mission accomplished.

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