On Saturday evening, June 1st, families, friends, and supporters gathered together at the picturesque Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hilton for the second annual Navy Special Operations Foundation Benefit Gala, presented by Toyota. This Foundation is the only organization exclusively dedicated to supporting Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Diving forces around the globe.
On a night that featured live entertainment, a formal dinner, and a silent auction, the Hampton Roads community came together to raise over $130,000. These funds are critical in affording NSOF the ability to continually expand programming in support of Gold Star families, Wounded Warriors, and the larger NSO community.
Keynote Speaker Captain Cao
The keynote speaker for the evening was Captain Hung Cao, J3X Branch Chief of Sensitive Activities, Exploitation, and Joint Expeditionary Teams. Captain Cao used his keynote speech to tell the harrowing story of his family's flight from Hanoi as Saigon was falling to the North Vietnamese, cementing the communist victory in the Vietnam War. In the chaos that unfolded, as a four-year-old boy he was separated from his family during the evacuation and his mother sewed some money into his clothes, along with a note which read "This is my child, please take care of him."
He loves the country that gave his family safe haven, and he explained, "This is why I put on a uniform and serve. Having been all over the world, I can tell you that there is no greater country, more giving and more generous, than the United States." He discussed in detail the work of Naval Special Operations over the years. Their work ranged from divers recovering bodies off ships sunk in Pearl Harbor, to recently Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal forces helping to defeat a terrorist network and "the most dangerous person in the Faryad Province," Afghanistan.
But Captain Cao captured the spirit of the evening when he told the stories of other divers who distinguished themselves not with their commands and awards, but with their bravery.
A Word from Our Founder
The NSOF gala also featured acknowledgements from our founder and the chairman of the NSOF Board, Joe Cockrell.
Joe appropriately took time to thank our incredible sponsors, who are noted below.
He gave special recognition to Toyota, noting, "They have come through for NSOF in such a huge way, particularly last year when they stepped up to support a brand new foundation … after some key leaders from Toyota took part in last year's Gala and were able to meet all the operators and families that comprise this community, they said it was an easy decision to stay with us again this year."
Joe then directed attention back to our mission.
"Lastly, I wanted to take a moment to explain why we are here tonight. Quite simply this is an opportunity to come together and celebrate the contributions and laurels of this community. Navy Special Operations is comprised of the most elite and versatile bomb squad and diving forces in the world, and NSOF exists to ensure that message is consistently and loudly repeated. … The most common feedback we've received at events we've organized is how refreshing and needed it is to get together for something positive and not tragic. Because this is in many ways what we're here for…to show our appreciation and to celebrate."
Brad Snyder, last year's inaugural gala keynote speaker, was acknowledged as well. Brad served as a Navy Lieutenant and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer and lost his eyesight in Afghanistan in 2011 while clearing a path for members of the SEAL team he was attached to after they became inundated with improvised explosive devices. Exactly one year to the day of his injury, Snyder took gold in the men's S11 400m free at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Brad has gone on to win 5 gold and two silver medals throughout his Paralympic career. His work in securing Toyota's sponsorship was crucial in making this event possible. He is an accomplished author and currently serves on the United States Olympic Committee and NSOF Board of Directors.
In addition to the money raised by ticket sales and donations, the silent and live auctions were a tremendous success. In total they combined to raise almost $42,000. They also punctuated the night with some real excitement.
Ben Gedeon, linebacker for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, raised the enthusiasm level by bringing custom gear designed for the My Cause My Cleats Campaign. The NFL annually sets aside their dress code for one week, allowing players to wear custom clothing designed to be auctioned off for worthy causes. These causes not only get the proceeds from the items, but they also benefit from additional attention by being featured during the broadcast of the game. Gedeon auctioned off his custom game-worn NSOF cleats and jersey.
As the evening drew to a close, a bidding war broke out between three individuals vying for a blasting machine donated by Jimmy Hintzke, owner of Valhalla's Forge in Virginia Beach. Inside the blasting machine were artifacts such as pieces of the World Trade Center, Oak from the USS Constitution, and from Normandy during D-Day in WWII. In the giving spirit of the night, bidding increased as the deadline approached. Bob Brush, owner of Point One (Gala Gold Sponsor) was poised to win the 3-way final bid battle at $6,400 when the donor stepped in. To everyone's surprise, Mr. Hintzke graciously announced he would build two more identical blasting machines, one for each of the two previous bidders. This turned $6,400 into over $18,000 for NSOF.
In total, the evening raised an impressive amount, over $130,000. This money will be used to improve the lives of families who have sacrificed so much for all of us, and those who continue to serve our nation proudly.
If you are reading this and wondering how you can give, follow this link to the NSOF donation page.
Special guest retired Command Master Chief, USN, Barry McLaughlin was recognized during the evening. As a committed NSOF athlete ambassador, Barry took on the Forrest Gump challenge, only instead of running across the country he rode his bicycle. First dipping his bicycle tire into the Pacific ocean in San Diego, CA., 3000 miles later he again dipped his tire into the Atlantic ocean in St. Augustine, Fl. During this journey, Barry diligently raised funds through a vast network of friends and family, ultimately contributing over $10K to NSOF in honor of the Warriors who have been lost and are never forgotten.
What does NSOF Do?
NSOF is committed to our vision, to "Ensure those who have selflessly served within the Navy Special Operations community are connected for life, and that they are never neglected or forgotten." But we leave it to Captain Cao to describe the real work of NSOF, who compares the foundation to a forest of sequoia trees, who intertwine their roots and share resources to withstand the greatest threats.
Our Sponsors Make the Vision a Reality
NSOF is proud to recognize all our sponsors for the 2019 Gala:
- Presenting Sponsor: Toyota
- Platinum Sponsor: Prodigy Realty
- Gold Sponsors: Veterans United Home Loans and Point One
- Silver Sponsors: Life's a Blas Vacation Rentals, Obsidian Solutions Group, and Red Plug Design Co.
Toyota, our presenting sponsor from the beginning, was represented at the Gala by several managers. They included James Simon, parts and service operations in the Virginia Beach area; Michael Toner, sales operations in the Virginia Beach area; Alex Burchfield, marketing, incentives and advertising in the central Atlantic region; and Jackson Tolke, e-commerce operations in the Virginia Beach area. We are so grateful to have Toyota as a committed stakeholder for our mission. We consider Toyota a part of our family and look forward to what the future holds for our partnership.
Our closing words from Joe Cockrell speak to our passion for this work. He references a story he heard from a wounded NSO veteran:
NSOF was created and exists ONLY to serve these warriors and their families with the same energy and passion in which they've selflessly served our nation. We do this because our community deserves it, because the support we provide is absolutely paramount, and because, "we want every person in this community to live their lives to the fullest every single day, because we owe it to those who can't."