On Thursday, April 26th, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation kicked off the Norfolk NATO Festival weekend with a Flag Raising Ceremony followed by the “NATO Night” at the Virginia International Tattoo.
The Norfolk NATO Festival highlights the Command’s influence and impact in the world and in the United States. It is the longest continuously running festival in the Hampton Roads region and the only such festival in the United States, greeting around 40,000 visitors from over 45 states.
This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Festival, originally established in the early fifties when the Women’s Club of Norfolk and a number of Norfolk’s garden clubs embraced an idea to promote the city’s floral beauty through an annual Festival, including the city’s famed azaleas. In 1953, NATO established its first and only Command in North America in Norfolk, and a year after NATO’s arrival Norfolk leaders added “International” to the name of the beloved Azalea Festival. Re-naming the festival served the dual purposes of a salute to the Allied forces and a celebration of the beauty of the city’s gardens.
Today, that well-known spring celebration is part of the Norfolk NATO Festival. While thousands flock to the parade and other events, many are unaware that the Norfolk NATO Festival is actually a year-round operation, bringing education and cultural opportunities to Norfolk that impact thousands of Norfolk residents and visitors. Its goals include creating new friendships, providing a basis for cultural exchange, recognizing NATO’s role in maintaining peace in the world, and pursuing new lines of trade between Norfolk and the world.
During the Flag Raising Ceremony, aircraft from the US Navy and French Navy performed fly overs the event site.
“These twenty-nine flags symbolise our commitment to standing together in defence of the Alliance’s values and the almost one billion people it represents,” said General Denis Mercier, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation; “Today, the NATO service members and their families working at Allied Command Transformation represent thirty five allied and partner nations and all of us call Norfolk home” he concluded.
Following the Flag Raising, the Norfolk Scope opened its doors for the Virginia International Tattoo, the largest Tattoo in the United States with 1,000 Tattoo performers from 8 nations, 80 different units and 40,000 expected attendees.
On April 27th, General Mercier and Allied Command Transformation staff participated in the Hampton Roads Show to explain more about the Festival, its significance and to present a special creation from a local brewery to celebrate NATO's presence in the area.
General Mercier was also interviewed by local news outlets, to present NATO's Allied Command Transformation and the special bond that connects the Command with the Hampton Roads area. An example is available here.
Norfolk-based NATO’s Allied Command Transformation is NATO’s home in North America, and it is estimated that the Command contributes $100 million to the local economy every year.