Service members at Fleet Week visit children at San Francisco General Hospital

11 Oct 2011 | Lance Cpl. Joshua Young

Marines, Coast Guardsmen and sailors participating in San Francisco Fleet Week delivered and read books to children at San Francisco General Hospital Oct. 6.

San Francisco Fleet Week is more than just a celebration or a tradition. This event is also an opportunity for the sea services to give back to the community.

The service members’ visit left kids with smiles on their faces and new books in their hands.

“We have to try to make them smile and make them forget why they are there,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Nichols, a 37-year-old aviation structural mechanic from Abilene, Texas, stationed aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard. “It’s a good chance for us to get out there and show them that there’s another side to the military. There is a softer, more caring side.”

The group of visitors introduced themselves to the children, told them jokes and read books aloud. At the end of the visit, the Marines, Coast Guardsmen and sailors donated a few dozen books to the children and the hospital.

“The first little girl I visited was four and didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak any Spanish, but we connected over Thomas the Train.” Nichols said. “She mimicked everything that was going on in the book and we shared making faces at each other. We just had such a good time.”

Many staff members of the hospital lined up to have their photos taken with the young service members before they left. They also thanked them for visiting and for their service.

“I definitely think it is important for the children to see the service members and for our staff in terms of improving morale,” said Mabel Chan, a pediatrician and the director of inpatient pediatrics at San Francisco General Hospital. “The staff thinks it’s great. They have people coming who care for children and want to give something to them. I think everyone really enjoyed seeing them. It was the highlight of their day.”

The children at the hospital are usually visited frequently around holidays, but the hospital opens its doors to visitors all year long. Books are always welcomed at the hospital.

“I think it’s great in terms of promoting reading with our children,” Chan said. “So much of video games and TV have overtaken kids’ activities. Seeing the service members promoting literacy and reading as an activity is great for the kids.”

Service members who are here for Fleet Week will be involved in several other events. There are tours, static displays and air shows scheduled to build relationships with the people of San Francisco and to showcase the military’s crisis response capabilities.

“A lot of people forget that while we are overseas fighting wars, we are also pulling people out of natural disasters like Katrina and earthquakes.” Nichols said. “I think this is a good opportunity for us to go out there and reach out to a community.