The city of Santa Barbara opened homes and hearts last Friday evening to some of the nation’s finest Marines at a Welcome Home Gala presented by the Santa Barbara Navy League at the Coral Casino in Montecito.
A Navy League-sponsored reception at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara honored members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines of Camp Pendleton, also known as 3/5 Dark Horse, for their courageous and selfless acts of heroism upon returning from a seven-month tour in the Sangin District of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.
The atmosphere at the black-tie event was festive and dense in patriotic fervor as the honorary Marines entered the stunning outdoor patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean clad in long-sleeved blue coats with red trim, white web belts with gold buckles, and white peaked caps.
A shimmering afternoon sun fell upon the glistening array of gold medals and colorful ribbons displayed proudly on the formal uniforms as the soldiers mingled with proud wives, girlfriends and family members.
Tables were laden with a scrumptious range of hors d’oeuvres, including citrus red snapper with watercress relish and duck confit salad with green papaya, plus a vast selection of fine wines.
“The 9/11 weekend became very meaningful to us back in March when one of the people who goes to my church had somebody from the 3/5 speak to me — a doctor who had been treating the killed in action and injured, 25 dead and over 200 casualties,” said J. Douglas Crawford, special assistant to the national president of the Santa Barbara Navy League. “He said they’re going to need some help when they get home, and we said we’re going to bring them here to Santa Barbara and show some love to these 50 or so military families.”
Aaron Wesson, a 3/5 chaplain lieutenant, stood with wife Kara and was overwhelmed by his first visit to Santa Barbara and how the community had accepted him and fellow comrades with open arms as gracious hosts for the weekend.
“These soldiers fought in Afghanistan,” Wesson said. “The war is worn of the backs of these men.”
The highly esteemed 3/5 Dark Horse, organized in 1917, has served America during numerous campaigns and battles since World War I. Members of the division have garnered more than 70 decorations for exceptional skill and courage in combat.
The welcome ceremony began with a Presentation of the Colors performed by the Naval Sea Cadet Corps AIRPAC Squadron, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and a heartfelt invocation by the Rev. Jeff Cotter, SBNL chaplain.
Later, Masters of Ceremony Karri Turner and Jack Scalia hosted a live auction. Favorite items on the front lines included a “Ladies” Cartier Tank Watch with pink alligator strap courtesy of Bryant and Sons Jewelers valued at $2,600, and limo service and catered dinner for six on a coastal cruise aboard the largest yacht in Santa Barbara, TORQUA, courtesy of Geoff and Alison Rusack.
“The Navy League supports men and women who serve in uniform, and the best way to do that is to bring them into town and get them in front of people and into their homes,” Crawford said. “Because once you’ve captured their attention, you get their hearts and minds when they meet these young men and women.”
The Santa Barbara Council of the Navy League, chartered in 1956, is a nonprofit civilian organization that supports active duty military personnel and their families. Since the league’s inception, SBNL has adopted 15 military units, including 3/5 Dark Horse, and has received the Outstanding Council Award at the national level for a sixth consecutive year.
“My great appreciation and honor is that I am the commanding general for 26,500 Marines and sailors, and this battalion is just one of 28 units in my command but it’s special because 3/5 Dark Horse are just recently returned,” Bailey said. “This event is with our families and our children, and so that makes it that much more special because now someone has not only taken the time but showed a tremendous amount of appreciation for the sacrifice that these young men and women have made for their country.
“It’s like opening up the home of Santa Barbara, which many of the local residents have done, and so that’s the part that makes it feel special for not only them but for me.”