What: Congressional Gala, an annual benefit for the Armed Forces Foundation.
Where: Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 1330 Maryland Avenue, SW.
When: Wednesday, March 5, 6 PM
Who: The Armed Forces Foundation was founded in 2001 as part of a Defense Department program to assist active-duty and retired military personnel and their families. So it’s no wonder the organization’s annual gala turns out a long list of politicos. Among the VIPs in attendance last night were Senators John Kerry, Joseph Biden, and Joseph Liebermann as well as Congressmen Chet Edwards, C.W. Bill Young, and Gary Ackerman. General James Conway and General George William Casey Jr. were there, comprising half of the Joint Chiefs contingent, alongside Gordon England, deputy secretary of the Defense, and Mary Peters, secretary of Transportation. Rounding out the bold-faced names were high-profile business owners and philanthropists, including self-made billionaire Sheldon Adelson, owner of Las Vegas Sands, whose estimated net worth is upward of $25 billion and who ranks third on the Forbes list of America’s richest people. Emcee for the evening was Brian Kilmeade, Fox News Channel sports anchor and co-host of Fox & Friends, and meal-time entertainment was provided by Ron White, redneck stand-up comedian of Blue Collar Comedy Tour fame.
Photographs by Chris Leaman.
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Food and Drink: The evening opened with a reception of light hors d’oeuvres—sesame chicken bites and beef skewers—and well-stocked open bars. Dinner was a three-course menu of mesclun asparagus salad, organic chicken breast with oyster mushroom cream, and a chocolate truffle financier for dessert. Servers were on hand to refill glasses with Ferrari-Carano fumé blanc and Tintara Shiraz.
Scene: Guests perused the live and silent auctions during the reception. The big-ticket item of the evening was a loaded Ranger 188VX bass boat, which was going in the live auction for $45,000. The silent auction was stocked primarily with Americana sports and entertainment memorabilia, including a basketball autographed by Magic Johnson (starting at $350), a 1986 New York Mets World Series poster signed by the team (starting at $2,000), and a Saving Private Ryan poster signed by Tom Hanks (starting at $1,000). In the mix were also a few politically-bent items—this is DC, after all—including a signed-and-framed photo of New York’s Rudy Giuliani with the caption “America’s Mayor,” which made more than one person chuckle. Bridging the gap between sports and politics was George H.W. Bush’s 1948 Yale baseball jersey, signed and framed, going for $6,000.
The doors to the main dining room opened around 7:30, but guests took their time finding their tables. The mingling and conversation continued in the dining room for another half hour, until Kilmeade asked—then begged—everyone to find their seats and quiet down. Retired Major General Randall West, an honorary board member, opened the program with the presentation of colors as uniformed Marines brought in the flags. The crowd stood quietly as a military officer performed the National Anthem, which was met with a long round of cheers as the last note subsided. Next was a recitation of the names of the VIPs and dignitaries in attendance, a ritual that held the crowd’s attention for less than five minutes; by the end of the list, West was practically screaming over loud conversation.
A short break followed, a last call for the auction bidding, and then it was back to the dining room for dinner and much-anticipated entertainment by White. Dozens caught White in the foyer outside the dining room before his performance to snap pictures and grab autographs; more than one person was bewildered as to why the comedian was allowed to smoke a cigar inside the building. “It’s part of his schtick,” a fan explained.
After the comedy performance, the awards portion of the evening got underway. General James Conway and wife Annette were honored with the Bill and Beverly Young Leadership Award for the general’s military leadership and the couple’s patriotism. Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were given the Patriot Award for their philanthropy and generosity to the organization.
Bold-faced names: 5 out of 5
Swankiness: 4 out of 5
Exclusivity: 4 out of 5
Food and drink: 3 out of 5
Total score: 16 out of 20