Local Navy veteran, wife, and mother surprised with family Thanksgiving vacation

The Navy has been part of Emily DaBruzzi’s life for 20 years, and now she and her family are receiving a Thanksgiving vacation to recognize them and thank them for their service.

“I enlisted when I was 18,” she said.

While serving in Hawaii, she met her husband, Information Systems Technician Chris Smith. Together, they have three children. Their oldest son Trenton Smith enlisted in the Navy too, and he is currently training in California.

As a University of North Florida graduate student, DaBruzzi is paying it forward by helping veterans transition back into college.

“She does a great job here at the Veterans Resource Center,” said Matthew Ohlson, the Director of the Taylor Leadership Institute who is also an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership within the College of Education and Human Services.

At The Green at UNF, you’ll be able to spot 1,400 flags that represent all military-affiliated students. DaBruzzi was actually working on setting those flags when she was told she and her family would be awarded a beachfront, weeklong vacation.

“It was amazing and unexpected,” she said.

“She’s such a hard worker, I don’t think she even paused to get the recognition,” Ohlson remembered. “She still put those flags in the ground.”

Now, she can finally take a break at a Marriott Hotel in West Palm Beach with her two younger children, and her husband who is set to return from the USS The Sullivans this month, just in time for Thanksgiving.

“This was a hard deployment, over seven months,” DaBruzzi said. “It was a rough one so the fact that he can come home and we can go away to celebrate, you know this beautiful resort - it’s - there are no words.”

This vacation is made possible thanks to a partnership between the Taylor Leadership Institute, the Veterans and Military Resource Center and the Marriott, which donated an unsold room.

“As a military family, there’s not always the extra funds for these types of vacations, or you rarely take the time for yourself,” DaBruzzi explained.

The institute hopes to find more corporate partners to make this an annual giveaway for veterans’ families.

“That family time is so important for these families,” Ohlson pointed out.

And now, DaBruzzi looks forward to some time with hers. ”It’s honestly perfect,” she said. “It’s so appreciated.”