The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Commissioning Committee hosted the Ship Sponsor Luncheon on July 21, 2017 at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott in Norfolk, Virginia. The Luncheon paid tribute and honored the work of Ship Sponsor Susan Ford Bales, daughter of President and Mrs. Gerald R. Ford.
USS Gerald R. Ford Commissioning Committee Co-Chairman Greg Willard welcomed the attendees. Willard shared the details of the Committee’s $6.5 million fundraising effort to provide enhancements to the ship by surpassing its goal of $4,000,000. Willard recognized the generous contributions of the individuals and families, including Doug DeVos, Peter Secchia, and MaryPat Woodard, which supported the Committee’s fundraising efforts. Willard also thanked Bill Crow and Maryellen Baldwin of the Navy League of Hampton Roads.
USS Gerald R. Ford Commissioning Committee Co-Chairmen Doug DeVos, Red Cavaney, and Greg Willard gave several gifts during the luncheon. Also, as part of U.S. Navy tradition, several Plank Owner Plaques were provided to various recipients including USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Captain Richard C. McCormack, Ship Sponsor Susan Ford Bales, and Matrons of Honor Tyne Vance Berlanga and Heather Vance Devers.
DeVos also noted that through the generosity of donors, the Commissioning Committee contributed $125,000 towards the USS Gerald R. Ford ‘Wings Over America’ college fund. Family members of the crew will benefit from this unique WOA scholarship.
Former Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin acknowledged the extra “hands-on” effort of Susan Ford Bales saying, “she truly redefined what it means to be a ship sponsor” and how her personal engagement helped “the shipbuilders connect to Gerald R. Ford the man” and presented her a gift of two charm bracelet charms in honor of the Commissioning event.
Captain McCormack also recognized the extra effort of Susan Ford Bales by presenting her with a framed picture of the ship and a commissioning coin with serial number “38” in honor of her father Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of the United States.
Susan Ford Bales welcomed those in attendance and thanked all of the contributors to the Commissioning effort. Bales acknowledged, at first, she didn’t know what to do as the ship sponsor so she decided to model her priorities after her father. She provided detailed examples of her contributions including turning construction wrenches, pulling cables, stringing telephone wires, working in the big blue crane, testing the anchors, turning on the pumps, flooding the dock and other ship building activities.
Bales stated that her proudest moment was when Matt Mulherin designated her as an honorary shipbuilder, adding that it was always a joy to say “my fellow shipbuilders.” She acknowledged the efforts of Newport News Shipbuilding and their goal to provide the American people with the mightiest ship ever built. Bales also recognized the love of country, courage and personal integrity of the ships officers and crew. She summarized this effort by reading a statement from her father President Ford saying that there was no greater honor that he ever received than to have his name associated with the brave men and women of the USS Gerald R. Ford.
U.S. Army Chorus Master Sergeant Alvy Powell sang the National Anthem and USS Gerald R Ford Chaplain Commander Steven Barstow delivered the invocation. Powell also delivered a musical tribute to President Ford by singing “Ol’ Man River,” “What I Did For Love” and “God Bless America”.