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Biden celebrates Friendsgiving, serving up dinner to troops and military families

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

President Biden is kicking off the holiday season this week, including hosting a friendsgiving dinner with military members and their families in North Carolina. NPR's Deepa Shivaram traveled to Cherry Point Marina Air Station for the event.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: The air hangar at Cherry Point looked a little different for special guests. A marine band played jazzy Christmas music, and a few hundred service members and their families were sitting at tables covered in red-and-yellow tablecloths. Buffet stations were set up with a Thanksgiving feast, which was about to be served to them by the commander in chief.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: By the way, I'm serving mashed potatoes, so come to my place.

SHIVARAM: President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited the air station as part of a program called Joining Forces. It's one of the first lady's efforts to support military families. Cherry Point is home to about 9,000 military personnel and just over 8,000 of their family members. Before serving dinner, the president thanked them for their service.

JOE BIDEN: The American people have no idea the sacrifices you're making. One percent of you represents 99% of the public. You're all volunteers. You all just show up.

SHIVARAM: The Bidens often talk about how they are a military family, too. Their late son Beau Biden was deployed to Iraq in 2008. The first lady says she knows what it's like to be away from family during the holidays.

JILL BIDEN: So even though you're away from your families at home in your home states, we know that you're here with your family here because military is family.

SHIVARAM: Celebrity chef Robert Irvine helped host the dinner with his foundation, which provides support for military members, veterans and first responders. On the menu - slow-roasted, bourbon-brined turkey, sweet potato casserole. There was a smoked ham and butternut squash and the mashed potatoes with roasted garlic served by the president. And the food, according to Dawan Orecane...

DAWAN ORECANE: It was amazing.

SHIVARAM: Yeah.

But it wasn't quite as relaxing as dinner with family.

ORECANE: Like having your boss in the room with you at the same time. It's kind of hard.

SHIVARAM: Thanksgiving with military members is just one holiday tradition for the White House. On Monday, the first lady will reveal the White House Christmas decorations. But first, the Bidens are celebrating with their own family, spending Thanksgiving in Nantucket. Deepa Shivaram, NPR News, Cherry Point Marine Air Station, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIZ KHALIFA, BIG K.R.I.T. AND GIRL TALK SONG, "HOW THE STORY GOES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.