As with last year's reunion, our primary focus was to continue increasing participation in reunions and provide an environment that enables Gold Star Families, Combat Control Team brothers, and their families to reconnect with each other.
Now that the Atlantic City event is over, I'm pleased to say that we accomplished our mission. This year, we had a Gold Star family participate, and we were fortunate to have an excellent keynote speaker who provided insights into the stand-down in Afghanistan. Across Vegas, Nashville, and Atlantic City reunions this year, we had over 380 attendees sign up.
We organized some enjoyable activities, although the weather forced us to cancel the scheduled CCT-only Go Kart race this year. On Thursday, we introduced some new features, such as spa services and a hospitality room where attendees could relax while waiting for their rooms to be ready. The room, located on the 68th floor, offered a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean and the back bay of Atlantic City. We served beverages and snacks to keep everyone comfortable while they waited. I must say, it was difficult to get people to leave!
On Friday and Saturday mornings, we conducted Living History sessions, gathering information about Combat Control Team history. We sought volunteers willing to participate in on-camera video interviews to share their individual experiences as Combat Controllers, discussing their decorations, accomplishments, what it means to be CCT, and the requirements to maintain their Combat Ready status. We conducted eight interviews, with participants recounting their missions in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South America.
Friday featured a trip to a gun range, where we visited New Jersey's premier NSSF 5-star rated shooting sports training facility. Attendees had the option to bring their own firearms or rent them, as well as rent ammunition. The facility even had an excellent archery area, although it lacked axe throwing. One can only imagine the fun we would have had if they had that activity!
In the afternoon, we boarded a CCT-only boat cruise, enjoying a refreshing afternoon along the oceanfront skyline of Atlantic City. Together, we experienced panoramic views and raised a toast to our fallen brothers.
Saturday afternoon was dedicated to a Texas Hold'em tournament. There's nothing quite like a CCT poker game. This year's Vegas Texas Hold'em champion, Mike Marino, didn't stand a chance. Kyle Stanbro and Mike Breeden held nothing back, and Dave Mullen gave them a run for their money. The trash-talking was relentless, and in the end, Stanbro celebrated his victory with a dance.
Over the course of three nights, we savored each other's company, shared meals, and engaged in conversations that shall remain undisclosed. What happens in Atlantic City stays in Atlantic City, as they say. On Thursday, we enjoyed a taste of Atlantic City with hot wings, sliders, cheesesteak dumplings, seasonal fruit and vegetables, and a 4-hour open bar. Friday brought us a taste of Philly with hoagies, tasty cakes, soft pretzels, hors d'oeuvres, seasonal fruit, and vegetables, and, of course, another 4-hour open bar. Saturday included a cocktail hour followed by a banquet dinner featuring marinated grilled flank steak, a fresh seasonal vegetable crudités display, an imported and domestic artisan cheese display, seasonal sliced fresh fruit display, Italian antipasto display, grilled fresh vegetable display, Mediterranean display, and Vaquero Boulevard Buffet. During the event, our MC summed it up: the keynote speaker was excellent, and the auctioneer was highly entertaining, offering items that only a CCTer could genuinely appreciate.
Several attendees took the opportunity to explore downtown Philadelphia, walking in the footsteps of America's founding fathers on a guided tour of Philadelphia's Old City. They visited places such as the Betsy Ross House, Liberty Bell, and the Revolutionary War Museum, among other historic sites.
Others ventured to try the famous Pat's Steaks and Geno's restaurants. Geno's Steaks, founded in 1966 by Joey Vento, is renowned for its cheesesteaks and is in South Philadelphia, across from rival Pat's King of Steaks, credited with inventing the cheesesteak in 1933. The cheesesteak has since become a signature sandwich of Philadelphia.
This year's event cost $125 for attendees, with lodging expenses totaling under $500 for three nights from Thursday to Saturday. Activities were also paid for by attendees. You might wonder how we manage to keep costs so low—well, it's simple: we have generous sponsors, donations, and support from the Combat Control Foundation and Association. All we need is your participation to make this event a success. Don't miss out; sign up while you still can.
Currently, we are reviewing this year's event to identify areas for improvement and planning for next year. Reach out to a teammate and start making plans to attend our reunions. Stay tuned for more updates soon.