Celebration Serves Up New Favorites, Toasts Lifetime Friends

Published: November 28, 2022

Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, poses in front of the Dog Tag Bakery table, sampling a dessert.

Can Celebration get any more magical?

It’s a question fitting for a night that was put on pause for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Here are some highlights from Blue Star Celebration 2022.

Leading with an Emcee VIP

CNN broadcaster, Blue Star Families board member, and military spouse Brianna Keilar beautifully delivered the night’s remarks.”It’s been so long since we were able to do this,” Brianna commented. “This is one of my favorite events.” 

She’s one of Blue Star Families’ biggest supporters, helping to bring Blue Star Welcome Week to the national stage and broadcasting the Campaign for Inclusion

Presenting to a gathering of over 300 honored guests, she brought laughter and warmth to the crowd. “I wanna thank you for your partnership, for your friendship, for your support, “ remarked Keilar while emceeing. “Of course, we couldn’t do any of this important work without all of you.”

Dishing Out the Best 

Blue Star Celebration is known for its friendly chef battles, pairing culinary giants with a chef from each branch of military service. It’s the highlight of the event for many. 


This year’s pairings included:


SFC Michelle Gabourel, U.S. Army & Chef Katsuya Fukushima, Hatoba by Daikaya



GySgt Eva Castillo, U.S. Marine Corps & Chef Jenn Crovato, 1310 Kitchen & Bar



CS1 Mandy Harris, U.S. Coast Guard & Chef David Guas, Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery



TSGT Sarah Izor, Air National Guard & Chef Toyin Alli, Puddin’  



CS1 Danielle Lafaele, U.S. Navy & Catherine Mendelsohn, Santa Rosa Taqueria



TSgt Carmen Smith, U.S. Air Force & Chef Todd Gray, Equinox

SSgt Edward Santiago, U.S. Air Force & Chef Robert Wiedmaier, Marcel’s 


Each guest received Mardi Gras beads to cast their vote for their favorite dish. The chef with the most beads won! The winning duo for Blue Star Celebration 2022 was GySgt Castillo and Chef Crovato with their delicious twist on the classic Chicken Pot Pie. 

“That pot pie will go down in history,” commented Keilar.


Guests also enjoyed specialty crafted cocktails and desserts from:



Todd Thrasher, Potomac Distilling Company – Thrasher’s Rum, Tiki TNT

Gina Chersevani, Buffalo & Bergen, Last Call Bar, Suburbia



Dog Tag Bakery


Highlighting Partnerships

The restrictions and uncertainties of the last two years impacted many of the organizations, service members, and family members present for the evening. Community support events were postponed and each transitioned to a virtual way of conducting business. But for Blue Star Families, there is a prominent partner that helped us overcome new challenges: CSX

“CSX connects every major metropolitan area in the eastern United States, and it’s played an indispensable role in connecting Americans to goods and services during the supply chain crisis, and in the same way that they kept America moving forward,” Blue Star Families Co-Founder and CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet remarked during the event. “These past few years, they’ve done the same for Blue Star Families. Because of CSX, the rate at which we’ve been able to scale our support of military families has really been exponential.”

This year’s Blue Star Celebration offered Blue Star Families the opportunity to give organizations like CSX the recognition they rightfully deserve. CSX CEO Joe Hinrichs accepted the Constance J. Milstein Philanthropic Award on behalf of the organization, sharing: “From the beginning, Blue Star Families has stood shoulder to shoulder with our employees and our neighbors to deliver the right type of support directly to military families. And through the organization’s grassroots network, we’ve been able to proudly sponsor eight Blue Star Family chapters to create a feeling of inclusion and connection for those they touch.”

Recognizing Achievements

The night’s crowning moment certainly goes to Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Ellyn Dunford. “Being a military spouse comes with its own set of hardships and challenges, and as a military spouse herself, Ellen has long navigated them with a kind of grace that we all can aspire to,” commented former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama in a guest appearance video. 

Since the early days of the organization, Ellyn has served as a mentor and vocal supporter of Blue Star Families’ initiatives. This year, she was an honorary co-chair of Blue Star Welcome Week alongside her husband General Joseph Dunford (Ret.). To commemorate her years of contributions to service members and their families, Blue Star Families created a surprise video tribute, featuring representatives from Easterseals, craig newmark philanthropies, Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Military Child Education Coalition, Gary Sinise, USO, Bob Woodruff Foundation, the Dunford family, and Sheila Casey. There were even surprise messages from Mrs. Obama and current First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.  

“It’s been an honor to be connected to Blue Star Families for almost 13 years now, since Kathy approached me in California and asked me to help with the 2010 launch of Blue Star Museums in San Diego,” said Dunford.

The energetic evening was full of congratulations for past achievements and high aspirations for the future ushers in the next phase of Blue Star Families, including the dedication of the newest Chapter in New England. You can read more about the latest Blue Star Families initiatives at bluestarfam.org.


Thank you to this year’s Blue Star Celebration sponsors: FedEx, CJM Foundation, Lockheed Martin, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Smith, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, CVS Health, Merit, TriWest, Optum Serve, William Meaney, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Express Scripts, Booz Allen Hamilton, United Health Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, CGI Federal, The Independence Fund, Leonardo DRS, Crescent Cities Charities, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Purcell, ThunderCat Technology, Mr. Scott Allen, David Hochberg Foundation, BAE, The Walt Disney Company, Spiritune, McGovern Foundation, Ford Motor Company, Iron Mountain, Hunt Military Communities, Morgan Stanley, Fisher House Foundation, Textron, PenFed Credit Union, Peraton, and Deloitte.

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