Troops Honored at USO Event
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
ARLINGTON, Va., April 15, 2010 - Military leaders and a host of celebrities came together here yesterday to pay tribute to outstanding servicemembers and other special honorees at a star-studded event.
The USO of Metropolitan Washington hosted its 28th annual awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, a night devoted to USO supporters -- military and civilian -- for their volunteerism and dedication in support of servicemembers and their families.
"Who needs you the most? We ask ourselves a very simple question," Sloan Gibson, USO president, said before an audience of more than 500 guests. "Our mission is to lift the spirit of America's troops and families, ... our wounded warriors, and families of the fallen. There is no organization, anywhere, better suited to take care of our wounded warriors and their families than USO Metro."
USO Metro assists some 300,000 local servicemembers through fundraising, celebrity meet-and-greets, concerts and other morale-bolstering programs. The nonprofit organization also operates airport lounges at several local airports and military hospitals to give troops a little comfort and care during their travels and rehabilitation.
Several individuals were recognized at the dinner for their support of USO outreach programs.
James L. Jones Jr., national security advisor and retired Marine Corps general, and L. Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of intergovernmental and public affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs and disabled Army pilot, presented the USO Merit Award to the Bacon brothers.
"Each of the Bacon brothers is an accomplished entertainer, and they both exemplify the highest values of USO," Jones said. "Their commitment to our servicemembers and their families runs deep. These wonderful brothers have given so much of their time, energy and talent to visit and lift the spirit of our troops when they need it most."
The Bacon brothers said they were surprised when notified they had been chosen for the award. Visiting troops and giving their time to the USO, they said, is rewarding in itself.
"We feel like we've done very little to receive this award," Kevin said. "We're really struck by the wounded men and women who served so bravely."
USO tours help to build a connection between volunteers and the troops. USO helps to put servicemembers' experiences in perspective for those who may not fully realize what they've been through, Michael said.
"I hope that we are worthy of this award and can continue to contribute in our own small way through our music and performing and visiting people who are hurt," he added.
While much of the evening recognized USO efforts in support of recovering servicemembers, it's important not to forget those who are currently deployed throughout the world, said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there were some 210,000 [troops] serving as we speak around the world, many in harm's way," the admiral said. "They give us the opportunity to celebrate as we have tonight. ... We should never forget, and keep them in our hearts and prayers."
Besides the Bacon brothers, the list of celebrity USO supporters attending last night included television personality and U.S. Naval Academy graduate Montel Williams, National Football League Hall of Fame offensive lineman Anthony Munoz, Miss American 2010 Caressa Cameron and author and professional wrestler Mick Foley.
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston also attended, and the 82nd Airborne Division All American Chorus performed.
Other awards and recognitions included:
Another highlight of the night was the announcement of plans to build two new USO centers. A new center at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center will break ground this summer in Bethesda. A new facility at Fort Belvoir, Va., also is in the works, Elaine Rogers, USO Metro president said.
Both are expected to be complete, up and running by September 2011, Rogers said. The new centers will help to expand USO services to wounded warriors recovering at area military hospitals, she said.
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