Hosted by Robert Patrick, the patriotic night also honored USO Volunteers of the Year and the USO Congressional Caucus, and entertained guests with an appearance from Chef Robert Irvine and performance by Michael W. Smith
Washington, D.C. (October 20, 2015) – Nearly 1,000 guests gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center at the annual USO Gala to celebrate the men and women of America’s military and honor six service members, selected by senior military officials, and two USO volunteers for their extraordinary service. In addition to paying tribute to our men and women in uniform, the night highlighted how the USO helps connect service members with their family, home and country and also recognized supporters of the USO and America’s military.
Air Force General Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided the keynote speech for the evening. Selva discussed the importance of thanking our nation’s service members for their dedication throughout their service and for defending our country’s freedom and liberty.
“I’m not here as the senior military leader or as an officer in the United States Air Force, but as a citizen of the United States,” said Selva. “As a member of the greatest nation in the world that is defended by some of the greatest young men and women humanity has to offer. And to say thank you, not for standing in our shadow but for standing by our side and taking care of us and our families when it’s most important”
Since 2003, the USO Congressional Caucus has supported the USO, assembling more than 40,000 care packages at bi-annual service project events and supporting the two USO Warrior and Family Centers at Fort Belvoir and Naval Support Activity Bethesda through regular visits to troops. USO Chairman of the Board General Richard B. Myers presented the Spirit of the USO Award to the USO Congressional Caucus for their enduring support and commitment to our nation’s service members and their families.
Dr. J.D. Crouch II, USO President and CEO reflected on the USO’s commitment to remain by the side of our nation’s service members no matter where their home may be. Crouch also discussed how the USO launched the USO Transition 360 Alliance earlier this year to expand the organization’s scope of programming for troops and military families transitioning out of the military.
“Tonight is a night of connection, and connection forms the very DNA of this organization,” said Crouch. “A central challenge of military life is dealing with the separation that comes with service. The USO is that vital bridge back to family, home and country -- connecting our troops, no matter where, or how long or under what conditions they serve.”
Crouch continued on, discussing the great impact USO volunteers have on service members. With more than 30,000 USO volunteers located around the world, the USO’s volunteers are a valuable way for the nonprofit organization to help service members stay connected to home despite how far away they are from loved ones. Crouch awarded the USO Volunteer of the Year Award to one stateside volunteer and one overseas volunteer for their exemplary service.
USO Las Vegas’s volunteer Richard “Dick” Anderson was recognized for his enduring support of the USO and his dedication to recruit new USO volunteers in the Las Vegas area. Eric Chun, who just entered the military and is in basic training, began volunteering at USO Guam at age 15. Chun was recognized for his steadfast and exceptional commitment to the USO’s mission.
Guests enjoyed a fall-themed dinner designed by USO tour veteran and star of Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible, Chef Robert Irvine. Irvine said he is looking forward to his third USO tour and also shined a light on the impact USO tours have on troops and military families.
Grammy Award winning recording artist and best-selling author Michael W. Smith entertained the audience with an old classic, “Place in this World” and a special tribute in remembrance of 9/11 and those who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Smith also shared his heartfelt gratitude for the service and sacrifice America’s military provides.
"I'm a big fan of the USO and it’s just an honor to be here," said singer/songwriter Michael W. Smith. "To support and honor the honorees and recipients."
Actor and USO tour veteran Robert Patrick emceed the evening. Patrick, who has participated in five USO tours and visited more than 8,100 troops and military families, shared with the audience his USO experience.
“They informed me just being there … the [service members] would respond favorably to that,” said Robert Patrick. “Just having something that they can link to, like American pop culture. And then you just go there and you spend time with them. You walk around. You talk about their hometowns. Just hang out and have a good time. That’s the USO.”
As the night came to a close, Air Force General Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff joined USO tour veteran and the reigning Mr. Olympia, Phil ‘The Gift’ Heath to present the USO Service Member of the Year Awards. The USO works with military senior leadership each year to recognize the bravery, loyalty and heroism of an enlisted service hero from each branch of the military.
The 2015 USO Service Member of the Year Honorees:
- USO Soldier of the Year: Specialist Christian T. Sheers, Beast Troop, 1st Squadron, 33rd Calvary Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) (Fort Campbell, Kentucky)
- USO Marine of the Year: Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Bednarik, Company E, 2nd Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment Marine Corps Recruit Depot (San Diego, CA)
- USO Sailor of the Year: Petty Officer Second Class Jessica A. Jusino, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) (Newport News, Virginia)
- USO Airman of the Year: Senior Airman TJ Brantley, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Journeyman, 2d Civil Engineer Squadron (Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana)
- USO Coast Guardsman of the Year: Petty Officer First Class Angel Leott, Maritime Safety and Security Team Boston (Boston, Massachusetts)
- USO National Guardsman of the Year: Sergeant Aaron Burdash, 204th Area Support Medical Company, 347th Regional Support Group, Minnesota Army National Guard (Cottage Grove, Minnesota)
The USO is the only non-profit organization that is by the side of service members throughout their entire journey of service, from the moment they join, while in recovery and as they transition back to their communities. For nearly 75 years, the USO has been committed to keeping deployed troops connected to home, bringing laughter and a much-needed break to troops and their families around the world as well as providing critical programs and services for our troops in transition, wounded, ill and injured troops and their caregivers, and families of the fallen. The USO extends its gratitude to our 2015 Gala sponsors:
- Chairman Sponsor: Johnson & Johnson
- Vice Chairman Sponsors: Pritzker Military Museum & Library and Proctor & Gamble
- Premier Sponsors: Chevron, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Lockheed Martin Corporation and Northrop Grumman Corporation
- Four Star Sponsors: Altria and NewDay USA
- Three Star Sponsors: AT&T, The Coca-Cola Company, Disney | ESPN, Jeep, WLA, Inc. and UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans
Phil Heath has participated in two USO tours – To include… 1) 2014 to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and 2) 2014 to Kuwait.
He has visited and entertained more than 680 troops and military families with the USO.
About the USO
The USO strengthens America’s military service members by maintaining their connections to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. At hundreds of locations worldwide, we are united in our commitment to connect our service members and their families through countless acts of caring, comfort, and support. The USO is a private, non-profit organization, not a government agency. Our programs, services and entertainment tours are made possible by the American people, support of our corporate partners and the dedication of our volunteers and staff.
In addition to individual donors and corporate sponsors, the USO is supported by President’s Circle Partners: AT&T, the BNSF Railway Foundation, Clark Construction Group, LLC, The Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson, Kroger, NFL and Four-Star Partners: BIC, ConAgra Foods, FedEx, GEICO, JCPenney, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, TKS and the Wawa Foundation. We are also supported through the United Way and Combined Federal Campaign (CFC-11381). To join us in this important mission, and to learn more about the USO, please visit uso.org.