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First Lady Recognizes Deployed Seabees' Families

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2005 – To military families who've endured a double whammy - Hurricane Katrina's devastation and their loved ones' deployments - first lady Laura Bush's Dec. 12 visit to Gulfport, Miss., represented a welcomed burst of encouragement.

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First Lady Laura Bush assists a young boy in finishing a letter to his deployed parent during her visit with children at the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Gulfport, Miss., Dec. 12. Photo by Shealah Craighead

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

Bush visited about 50 children of Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalions 133 and 74 at Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport.

NMCB 133 had been slated to leave on a deployment in October, but remained a month longer in Gulfport to provide hurricane relief as part of a "super-Seabee battalion," explained Lt. Cmdr. Kyra Hawn, 22nd Naval Construction Regiment public affairs officer. Its members left for locations around the world, including Iraq, in November and are expected to return home in mid-April.

About 200 members of NMCB 74 returned to Gulfport last week, and the other 450 battalion members are expected to arrive home within the next two weeks, Hawn said.

"They're either getting ready to go, on a deployment, or just returned, and oh, by the way, your area has just been devastated by a hurricane," Hawn said of the Seabees' plight. Many Seabee families lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina and some are still living in trailers at the Gulfport base.

"Life's definitely a lot harder" since the hurricane, with many roads still washed out and school sports programs and other niceties for children still not in place, said Pauline Meno, wife of Lt. Michael Meno, who is deployed to Guam. "There's still an awful lot to do here to bring it back," she said.

Bush's visit "really meant a lot to the families," said Meno. Her two children, ages 5 and 7, "were so excited that she took the time to come and see them," she said. "It shows that she really does appreciate what the families have gone through and what they are contributing."

Hawn called Bush's visit a "big boost" to the families that send a strong message that "she values the sacrifices our Gulfport Seabees have made, both in contributing to Hurricane Katrina relief and in contributing to critical military operations around the world."

The first lady visited with the children as they made Christmas ornaments and wrote letters to their deployed loved ones. She read one letter aloud to media at the center: "All I want for Christmas, Dad, is for you to be home with me."

The first lady added a personal note and signed each letter. "It was very touching," Hawn said.

Bush also showed the film, "A Very Beazley Christmas," about the presidential family dogs, Barney and Miss Beazley.

During her visit, the first lady recognized the hardships the Gulfport children have endured and urged the public to reach out to them and other military families.

"These kids not only have suffered the loss of the hurricane like everybody else here, but many of them have a parent deployed," she said. "A lot of the parents are coming home this weekend, but there's still one battalion that's deployed. And so I hope people around the Gulf Coast will reach out to these families."

The first lady expressed hope that the American people will remember all military families during the Christmas holiday.

"I hope people will keep our military families, these here on the Mississippi Coast, but also the other military families around the United States, in their hearts and in their prayers during this holiday season," she said.

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