On December 4, 2014, the USO of Metropolitan New York held their 53rd Armed Forces Gala and Gold Medal Dinner. As part of the evening’s festivities, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr. and his wife, Mary, were honored with the USO’s Distinguished Service Award.
This was the first time a military leader and his spouse were awarded this particular honor, which is normally reserved for philanthropists and charitable organizations. The Winnefelds said that they were honored to accept an award from an organization they admire and respect.
“We should be awarding [members of the USO] for the things that you do each and every day,” Adm. Winnefeld said.
During his acceptance speech, Adm. Winnefeld recognized the military family members in the audience, particularly Gold Star mothers, those who had lost a child in service to their country. He also referred to the military as a family business.
The second-highest recognized member of the U.S. military also singled out his wife for her decades of work on behalf of the military community.
“I’m fairly certain we are here tonight primarily because of her,” Adm. Winnefeldsaid.
Mary Winnefeld has been helping military families for 30 years. She has volunteered her time in support of the families of deployed sailors, often cooking meals at Fisher House, or just providing comfort to those families. To this day, Mrs. Winnefeld remains a strong advocate for hiring Veterans and securing benefits for wounded warriors and their caregivers.
The admiral told attendees a story about how his wife once went “undercover” at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center as “Aunt Mary” to see firsthand how wounded service members and their families were being treated. Her findings and follow up efforts resulted in numerous improvements.
“She has a heart of gold, and I’m so very proud of her,” Adm. Winnefeld said.
The admiral and his wife graciously thanked the USO for all they do around the country. They reminded gala attendees to remember the U.S. service members, “in every time zone across the globe, who are hot, tired and dirty, who are sailors standing the watch on a ship’s bridge or in an engine room, or soldiers or Marines gearing up to go outside the wire, or airmen getting an airplane ready to launch out at some remote desert airfield.”
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Military Connection: USO Honors Admiral Winnefeld: By Debbie Gregory