Troops Honored at USO Event

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden

American Forces Press Service

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.

Actor-musician brothers Kevin and Michael Bacon shared the night’s top honor and were recognized for donating their time to troops. They often visit wounded warriors recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

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.

“The history of the organization is amazing,” Michael said. “Kevin and I are so honored to even be considered as a part of what [USO] gives back to not only our military service people, but our entire country.

“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:

  • Army Col. Gordon R. Roberts, commander of the Medical Center Brigade at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, received the John Gioia Patriot Award. Roberts is a regular USO volunteer, whose military career spans more than 40 years. He’s also the only Medal of Honor recipient serving on active duty.
  • The Professional Golfers Association Tour received the Legacy of Hope award, named for long-time USO supporter Bob Hope. The PGA Tour was recognized for its Birdies for the Brave program, which raises money for military charities.
  • Army National Guard Master Sgt. Robert Sutherland received the USO Metro Special Salute. Sutherland is a Vietnam War veteran who was wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
  • Army 1st Lt. Mark Wise received the USO Metro Special Salute. Wise was recognized for heroic actions under fire in Afghanistan.
  • Marine Corps Cpl. Jeremy Stengel received the USO Metro Special Salute. Stengel was recognized for volunteer service to the USO. He was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
  • Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David F. Brown received the USO Metro Special Salute. Brown was injured by an indirect-fire attack in Afghanistan.
  • Air Force Staff Sgt. David Flowers received the USO Metro Special Salute. Flowers stepped on an enemy land mine in Afghanistan
  • Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Munk received the USO Metro Special Salute for his actions as part of relief efforts in support of earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

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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