By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2012 – As part of Operation Home Cooking today at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show, the nation’s No. 2 military officer hailed the strength of military spouses and shared his favorite Spanish rice dish, paella.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife Mary welcomed military spouses and wounded warrior caregivers who were honored by Operation Home Cooking with a day of food, entertainment and fellowship.
The initiative recognizes military spouses for their commitment and sacrifices, and the event was free for those who attended.
“Last year I think we had 400 tickets for military spouses,” Winnefeld said, “and this year [Operation Home Cooking founder Denise Medved] was so generous in giving us 1,100 tickets. That’s why all of you are out in the audience.”
Mary Winnefeld added, “Today I am with the most -wonderful group of people I could be with and that’s military families, military spouses, be they male or female.”
Military families “are the most resilient, most caring, most compassionate, most fun group I’ve ever been with,” she said, “so it’s really neat to be able to do something special with you today.”
Medved said this is the third year of Operation Home Cooking, which invites military spouses to the cooking show for the day, “just to have a break and enjoy themselves because you’re really the unsung heroes of the military.”
She added, “I can’t tell you how important the military families are to the top brass in the military. We’ve done this the last two years [and} I knew that people had a fun time … but it really didn’t resonate with me until a couple of weeks ago how critical an event like this is for you all.”
Medved said she was contacted by “all of the top people in the military, [who asked], ‘Are you doing Operation Home Cooking again? What can we do to help you? This is really important to us, it’s really important to the spouses.’”
Tickets are distributed by the host committee, which represents all branches of the military. The inaugural event, held Nov. 13, 2010, in Washington, D.C., included a surprise visit from Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and celebrity chef Paula Deen.
On stage, because the admiral didn’t have time to cook the entire paella, he used a slide show of the process, featuring himself and four chefs on his staff, to show the audience how it was done.
Pulling a white chef jacket on over his service dress blues, Winnefeld called in turn for audience responses from Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard spouses, who answered enthusiastically.
“There’s a really important group of people here that I want to give a special shoutout to,” Winnefeld said.
In the last 10 years of war, many men and women have been injured in combat, he added.
“We call them wounded warriors and we have a special group of people here today who have given up so much of their personal lives to be with their wounded warriors,” the admiral said, inviting caregivers in the audience to the stage for the first taste of his favorite dish.
“I can’t even begin to express how much we appreciate what you guys have done for the wonderful men and women wearing the cloth of our nation, who have sacrificed so much for our country,” Winnefeld said.