Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Honors Ceremony Aboard the IKE

Many of you know that my son Scott is deployed with the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN69) Strike Group Eight, currently in the North Arabian Sea.

On Saturday, June 20, Command Master Chief Jeff Garber, 43, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Scott sent me the following photos of the Honors Ceremony as well as the letter sent to CMC Garber's wife and family. Knowing the camaraderie of the military, I can nearly feel the the atmosphere on the flight deck as CMC Garber started his final journey home. The letter from the Commander of Air Wing Seven describes the ceremony and the respect for a man who touched so many lives and served the United States proudly.

Here are the photos and the letter:

"Amy (and the entire family),

Jeff is on the way home. We had a very moving honors ceremony here onboard IKE in the North Arabian Sea on a beautiful Monday morning. I'll tell the story via the pictures I'm sending one at a time to keep the e-mail sizes manageable.

As you can see in the attached picture (it can be "zoomed" to see individuals if you'd like) there were well over a one thousand shipmates that came up on the flight deck to bid him farewell from IKE. The CVW-7 and ship Master Chiefs arranged everyone by colored jerseys for the farewell - the pictures are fantastic. Every day Jeff wore a different colored jersey to show support for all the departments within each squadron, green for maintenance, red for ordnance, brown for the plane captains on the deck, etc. The IKE did an absolutely fantastic job arranging the flight deck, preparing for the ceremony and recording the entire event.

He came up from below decks on the #2 elevator in front of the island, the same elevators we use to bring the aircraft up from the hangar bay when they are ready to go flying. Carrying the casket are the CVW-7 staff Chiefs, followed in procession by the CVW-7 squadron Command Master Chiefs and the IKE's CMC, Brian Exum - all in white CMC jerseys like the type Jeff wore at times also. Music began playing over the entire flight deck as the casket moved towards the C-2 Carrier Onboard Delivery aircraft, or COD as we call it. As Jeff was loaded into the aircraft, a final rendition of Taps left no dry eyes on the deck. It was so very special Amy. I'm confidant he heard the music and was watching it all from above.

We will send back the video of the ceremony with one of my staff officers who's leaving soon so that you can see the entire ceremony whenever you'd like. I'll tell you that it is Navy tradition to render honors to a fallen shipmate in the manner done for Jeff; I've just never been a part of such an outpouring of emotion and honor for one man. He was truly loved out here, as I know he is at home.

Steaming alongside was the USS Vicksburg, an Aegis cruiser that is always nearby the carrier and works closely with us all. Her Captain, CAPT "Chuck" Nygaard had his crew man the rails in whites as an honor to Jeff and all that he stood for and did for the entire IKE Strike Group team. The ship cutting through the blue sea with the Sailors standing at attention in whites, manning the rails, was very impressive. She was flying her largest American Flag she only flies on very special occasions when she is rendering honors. She was also flying pennants (flags) on her mast that spelled out "Fair winds Master Chief Garber."

One last thing I'd like to share with you and the family involves the entire theater of operations for Operation Enduring Freedom. For us to have quiet time on the flight deck for the ceremony in the middle of our time flying missions over Afghanistan, the USAF changed the entire schedule for air support into Afghanistan - support that includes large tankers that fuel us and strike fighters that covered our "normal" periods in the skies over Afghanistan. I'm sure CMC would have had it no other way - we launched F-18 strike fighters, EA-6B Prowlers and E-2C Hawkeyes early this morning to fill the skies over Afghanistan protecting those in harms' way on the ground, and were able to pause for the ceremony because of the entire effort by the U.S. military. They did this in honor of Jeff, who by the way (and no surprise here) made a big impression on the Air Force Major General (Maj Gen Raaberg) in charge of all of the flying in Afghanistan and Iraq when he came to visit IKE. Jeff personally briefed him and ate an early breakfast with him and the crew. As a matter of fact, General Raaberg flew his B-1bomber near IKE the night after Jeff passed away and rocked his wings as an honor to Jeff as he flew past. From the 3-star Admiral and Commander of the Navy's Fifth Fleet here in theater to the Second Fleet Commander in Norfolk to so many in our great Navy, to the entire United States Air Force over here, Jeff was well known, loved and most respected. Thank you for sharing him with us Amy - it has been an honor. It was so very hard to say goodbye to him today, but we take comfort that he is headed home to be with you all - his most beloved family.

On behalf of all of CAG-7 and with the utmost sympathy,
CAPT Calvin Craig Commander, Carrier Air Wing SEVEN"

God bless America! God bless the U.S. Navy and all Armed Forces!


me said...

Once again thanks to you and your son we get a peek into a world and life many of us know nothing about. I am sorry for the loss, it sounds like the world will be a little darker now that he is gone.

Carmi said...

I saw the photos on the Navy's site earlier this week, and was incredibly moved by the visual of the ceremony. How unbelievably sad for him to pass away so suddenly. I've thought about little else since I first saw the series.

Thank you for sharing this. It added another dimension to an unfathomable loss.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post. We have been amazed at the honor, respect, and patriotism that has been shown on the internet. The wonderful support from those who knew Jeff and from those who simply appreciate his service will be a comfort to our entire family as we begin to move forward.

Anonymous said...

As a close personal friend of the Garber's I know that they do not appreciate the posting of this personal letter on a random blog page. I don't know how you would have gotten a copy of this letter or why you thought you had the right to post it. Perhaps, out of respect for the Garber family, you should remove this letter.

Barb said...

When I received the above comment I was at first disappointed that someone would have an issue with my showing a magnificent, heartfelt tribute to a fallen sailor. I considered removing this post, as this person suggested, however, upon considerable soul-searching, I have chosen to leave it. The letter is a wonderful tribute to CMC Garber, a man who was dedicated to serving his country and who has the respect and admiration of superiors, subordinates, and peers in the Navy as well as other branches of the United States military. I wish to eulogize his character and accomplishments here.

I have a son in the Navy and have other family members who have served in war-torn areas around the world. A tribute such as this letter conveys would be an honor to share.

As I said, I have chosen to leave this post as it is. Any time a sailor, marine or soldier is lost, whether or not in battle, a piece of my heart goes with them. I could never write a tribute as elequent and genuine as CAPT Craig's.

So many people have no idea how valuable our military is and what they sacrifice for our freedom. Please let this shine a light on our heros and heroines.

My heartfelt sympathy goes out to Mrs. Garber, and all of CMC Garber's family and friends.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. It's a beautiful tribute to an amazing person.

Amy Garber said...

My name is Amy Garber. My husband was CMDCM Jeff Garber (CVW-7). Barb, I want to thank you for posting the message that was sent to me from CAPT Craig in a very respectful and honorable way. I received the message from CAPT Craig just hours after they flew Jeff off the ship. It was a very emotional and extremely personal message at the time. I requested that it not be randomly forwarded because I felt that I should ask CAPT Craig before doing so. Now that some time has passed and the letter has been passed on, I am touched that people care enough to read and comment on the respect and honor that my husband's fellow shipmates paid to him. Please understand that our family and friends were fiercely protective of me and our children in the days and weeks following Jeff's passing. I know that whoever posted the above message was just trying to respect my earlier wishes. I am thankful for all the thoughts and prayers that have been given to me and our children during this very difficult time. Words cannot express my sincere gratitude.

Barb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barb said...

Amy, I appreciate your kind comments, especially during this difficult time for you. I understand the protective cloak wrapped around you by family and friends. You are so blessed to have that support.

My son is an officer with the CVW-7 Strike Group and was also saddened by your husband's passing. The Navy brings so many together and forms ties that defy explanation.

You have my sincerest sympathy and prayers for comfort and strength. God bless you and your children.