By MC2 Amanda Cabasos
Staff Writer

Naval Air Station Jacksonville and the Northeast Florida Navy League Council hosted the 12th bi-annual Individual Augmentee (IA) Recognition Luncheon Feb. 20 at the station's River Cove Catering and Conference Center.

Twenty-three spouses joined 53 IAs from base and tenant commands, as well as Blount Island Command. The event was sponsored by the Northeast Florida Navy League, Rotary Club of Orange Park, Rotary Club of Orange Park Sunrise, and the Marine Corps League. 

The luncheon kicked off with the singing of the national anthem by HMC Gloria Cardona, and the invocation by NAS Jacksonville Chaplain (Lt.) Andrew Hayler. Music was provided by Navy Band Southeast Brass Quintet.

As awardees and command representatives enjoyed their lunch, NAS Jacksonville Commanding Officer Capt. Roy Undersander welcomed the guests and thanked the IAs for their dedicated service. 

"We are here today to honor the men and women who have returned from IA duty. I congratulate them for completing such rigorous assignments that were often outside of what they were trained to do as a Sailor or Marine. In all cases they served the joint force and our country with honor and distinction. And by doing so reflected a great credit upon themselves and the Navy and Marine Corps team."

He then introduced Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris as the guest speaker.

Harris said, "I appreciate having the opportunity to be here today to honor our shipmates. Having served as an IA myself in 2010 to Pakistan and several other places, I truly appreciate these IAs and their spouses for the sacrifices made during the separation. Today we have more than 3,100 Sailors who are forward deployed supporting the other branches of service to complete the mission. Doing God's work in undescribable places. These IAs are part of that long lineage of service members deploying and they should be very proud that they are showing the rest of the world that they are the best of what our Navy is all about."  

IA guest speaker Cmdr. Jorge Brito, M.D., is an orthopedic Surgeon who deployed from Naval Hospital Jacksonville to Camp Holland, a base located in the southern region of Afghanistan.

Brito said, "It's an honor and a privilege to be able to deploy. It was also something that I wanted to put behind me. It comes with sacrifices. What IA Sailors do is make the best of it when we are deployed, because we can't control what happens to us but we can control how we feel about it and what we do with it. That is what a lot of us IAs do, as well as our families. We find ways to make the best of it." 

He explained, "Deployments are an experience with contradictions. We get to provide support. We get to do something that we were trained to do and a part of us is anxious to do it. On the other hand you leave your family behind which is extremely difficult. It's also a disruption to your surgical practices as a surgeon. It is very different working out in the field. It makes it tough when leaving and coming back, but on the other hand it is a tremendous opportunity to serve. I was able to treat war injuries and as a surgeon that is a great thing. On the other hand you see some horrific things. I was able to treat the local population while I was there. And the patients are very grateful for the medical help. That was one of the highlights of my experience. The challenge though was you don't always know who is your friend or enemy. 

PS1(SW/AW) Princess Bacote from PSD Jacksonville said, "I have recently returned from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti Africa where I aided service members from all the branches when they arrived in country. I issued ID cards and fixed pay issues. We also aided in many volunteer efforts such as building orphanages and feeding the hungry children on the street. I thought it was a great opportunity going to Africa because it really opened my eyes in what is going on around the world." 

To close out the luncheon, each IA was presented with a special plaque, a Boots on the Ground coin from the Northeast Florida Navy League Council, and thank-you letters from U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and U.S. Representatives Ander Crenshaw and Corrine Brown. Each spouse was also presented with a rose courtesy of the Navy Exchange.

The IA Recognition Luncheon was first held at NAS Jax in 2008 and initiated by the Northeast Florida Navy League Council. 

"The Navy League has been privileged to honor more than 1,850 IAs over the past six years. Our Sailors have left their families to take on a mission that was not expected of them but they have stepped up on a voluntary basis to meet the challenge. We feel very privileged to honor our Sailors and their spouses for their sacrifice in the continuing War on Terrorism," said Mike McGrath, former national director, Navy League of the United States.