President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Fort Bragg, Nov. 22, to hand out Thanksgiving meals to service members and their families.
Service members and families spent the afternoon getting COVID-19 tests and onboarding buses at Pike Field. From there, they were bused to a hangar by the Pope Army Airfield. The hangar had several activities for kids and families set up, including coloring books and games provided by the USO. The hangar was open, showing a panoramic view of the newly refinished flight line, so when Air Force One landed shortly before 5:30 p.m., all the service members and their families could see the iconic plane land and slowly pull past the hangar.
Shortly after arrival, the Bidens disembarked from Air Force One. Before serving a meal to service members and their families, they each spoke to the crowd about the struggles military families face. Both Bidens talked about when Joe Biden's son, Beau Biden, served in the U.S. Army in Iraq and Kosovo. Beau Biden passed away in 2015 from cancer.
"I know what it feels like for all of your families here because you won't be home for the holidays. I know what it's like to see that empty seat at the table and just feel how hard it is for the families," Jill Biden said. "I just wanted to thank all of you. That's why we came to have dinner with you."The First Lady then passed the microphone to President Biden, who spoke about how proud he was of being the Commander in Chief.
"You do so much. Your families give so much. I really mean it," President Biden said in his speech to the troops. "You're the finest military that the world has ever seen. That's not hyperbole. You literally are. You're the finest the world has ever seen."
The Bidens, Gov. Roy Cooper, Kristin Cooper, and Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin helped serve 250 service members and military families. The President served stuffing, and the First Lady served mashed potatoes.
The Robert Irvine Foundation prepared and supplied the food. The non-profit foundation focuses on supporting service members and veterans through relief grants, scholarships and hearty meals. The founder, Chef Robert Irvine, is the host of Food Network's Restaurant Impossible.
After dinner, the President and the First Lady walked along the hangar to take photos with and talk to service members.
Attending family members and the service members were chosen by their commands, and representatives from each command at Fort Bragg were present.
One of the families in attendance, the Ryan Family, Natalie Ryan and her two children, 10-year-old Mikayla and 8-year-old Tommy, have been at Fort Bragg for two years. Natalie's husband, Tommy Ryan Sr., who has 15 years of Army service under his belt, is deployed. She received the invitation to the dinner only the day before.
"It's definitely an honor. Once in a lifetime kind of opportunity," Natalie Ryan said. The visit is part of the Joining Forces initiative — a White House effort to support military service members, military-affiliated families and veterans. The initiative, spearheaded by First Lady Jill Biden, began during her tenure as the Second Lady.
"I think that Dr. Biden is incredible. I always appreciated it since she was the Second Lady. Especially her work getting military spouses’ employment and reducing the barriers to military spouse employment," Ryan said. "It's incredible and wonderful."