Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks and spending time with family and friends. Servicemembers and veterans had the opportunity to spend time with their military family aboard the Odyssey cruise Nov. 20.

More than 300 guests gathered on the cool fall day for the annual Patriot's Thanksgiving Luncheon Cruise to honor veterans and servicemembers. As guests stepped aboard the Odyssey, they were greeted with both military and civilian volunteers from around the National Capital Region.

Veteran guests included those from the Armed Forces Retirement Home of Washington, D.C., the Disabled American Veterans of Washington, D.C., and from the Virginia Honor Flight.

Servicemembers from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Warrior in Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir, Va., were also in attendance, as well as active duty personnel from the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard stationed around the NCR.
Once all the guests were on board, Sal Naso, vice president and general manager of Entertainment Cruises of Washington, thanked each guest for their service in his remarks.

"It is an honor to host you today on this special Thanksgiving luncheon cruise as we thank you for your service. Everything today is being donated. The ship, the food and even the staff -- from our captain to all the service personnel, as a thank you for your service," Naso said.

As the ship pulled away from the dock in Southwest Washington, D.C., guests were treated to a special send off by the D.C. fireboat, John H. Glenn. The fireboat sent the Odyssey off to sail by shooting water more than 70 feet into the air as a special tribute. Along the route, the Metropolitan Police Harbor Patrol provided a police escort up the Potomac River.

As the boat approached the 14th Street Bridge, the luncheon acted as its own bridge, closing the generational gap between older veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and current servicemembers. Each veteran's table was assigned an active duty volunteer to assist with food and keep guests entertained.

Sgt. 1st Class David L. Simmons, of the 3rd Battalion, 312th Regiment, Fort Meade, Md., wanted to volunteer because he knew he would be in their shoes one day. "You have to respect what they've done in the past. They are incredible," he said. "Events like this cruise are always a good thing to be a part of." Listening to veteran's stories was a main priority for some, like Pfc. Justin D. Ortman of C Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). "I had the chance to talk to some of the older vets. I wanted to come and have some fun, and I got a chance to hear some great stories too," Ortman said.

As guests settled into their seats, they were treated to a three-course meal, including a house salad, turkey and dessert. During the lunch, Staff Sgt. Jamal Brown and Cpl. Anthony Jenkins, a bass and flute combo from the D.C. National Guard's 257th Army Band, played energizing jazz music that set the tone for the cruise. Shortly after the main course was served, guests young and old got a quick start to burning off the Thanksgiving calories as the house band started churning out popular songs that enticed willing participants onto the dance floor.

Once the ship docked, the guests disembarked and the Odyssey gave them one last Thanksgiving treat that consisted of a warm cookie and a friendly smile.

"Everything was great -- the food, the music, talking with everyone. I am definitely going to tell my buddies about this for next year," Ortman said.