USO Gala Honors Exemplary Service
(October 3, 2008)
|WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2008 – Comedian Robin
Williams and President Bush may have competed for laughs
during the 2008 USO World Gala here last night, but it was
five servicemembers who got the audience's greatest
“I had the honor of having my picture taken with the [United
Service Organizations] award recipients and their families,”
Bush said. “I congratulate them on setting such a fine
Bush also extended highest respect to the wounded warriors
who attended from Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.
USO recognized the servicemembers for their service above
and beyond the call of duty. Though the award was an honor,
the recipients held to the sentiment that it was all in a
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (left),
applauds the five servicemembers United Service
Organizations honored at its 2008 USO World Gala
in Washington on Oct. 1, 2008. The honorees are Coast Guard
Petty Officer 1st Class Phillip N. Waldron
(second from left), Army Spc. Monica L. Brown,
Marine Sgt. Richard E. Reyes, Navy Petty Officer
3rd Class Joshua E. Simson and Air Force Staff
Sgt. Shawn A. Ryan. USO chose each of the
servicemembers as its servicemember of the year
for their respective services.
“I'm humbled by it,” said Navy Petty
Officer 3rd Class Joshua E. Simson, a hospital corpsman. “It
feels a little weird to have all this attention just because
I was just trying to do my job.”
The job that earned Simson the title “USO Sailor of the
Year,” involved administering medical aid to 17 U.S. and
Afghan National Army soldiers when their patrol was
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Phillip N. Waldron, the
“USO Coast Guardsman of the Year,” said he, too, was
overwhelmed by the honor.
“It was completely unexpected, and I feel humbled, more than
anything else, that out of 40,000 Coast Guardsmen to be the
one in here tonight,” he said.
Waldron's commanding officer nominated him for the award for
“demonstrating unmatched initiative and operational prowess
overseas, qualifying as a boarding officer and leading
coalition forces on 40 high-risk boardings in close
proximity to Iranian waters.” He's also a small boat
coxswain, which is not a part of his primary job as a
“My father was also a coxswain, and I wanted to follow in
his footsteps throughout my career,” Waldron said.
That's a career that is undecided at the moment. He has nine
years in the Coast Guard and is debating making it a 20- or
Also recognized were:
-- Army Spc. Monica L. Brown, USO Soldier of the Year, who
is the second woman since World War II to earn the Silver
Star. A combat medic, she was temporarily attached to the
4/73rd Cavalry in Afghanistan when her convoy was ambushed.
She treated five injured soldiers and used her body to
shield them against enemy fire for 45 minutes until they
could be medically evacuated.
-- Marine Sgt. Richard E. Reyes, USO Marine of the Year, who
was serving as team leader with Company C, 1st
Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6 in Iraq
in July 2007 when his platoon's base was ambushed. After
several attempts, he and his men destroyed the enemy's
position. Three days later, an engagement with an insurgent
located on a rooftop ended in his team capturing three enemy
fighters. In all, Reyes led 70 combat missions and was
instrumental in the capture of 35 insurgents.
-- Air Force Staff Sgt. Shawn A. Ryan, USO Airman of the
Year, who volunteered for a one-year deployment to Iraq
during which he served with the 732nd Expeditionary Security
Forces Squadron. He trained 700 Iraqi police officers,
covered 4,200 miles of Baghdad streets during his patrols
and participated in 167 combat missions. He came under
attack multiple times, was wounded once and prevented a
suicide car-bomber from completing his mission, thereby
protecting the lives of 45 U.S. and Iraqi troops and more
than 1,000 Iraqi civilians.
These five are representative of every servicemember, Navy
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
“I believe, and I think they would agree with me, that in
their service ... these awardees typify the quality and
character of every one of their fellow soldiers, sailors,
airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen,” he said. “All of them
are heroes in their own right.”
He went on to thank the USO and its volunteers for offering
troops not only a taste of home, but a sense of
“That's what tonight is all about -- people who just don't
support the troops, but fight for the troops,” Mullen said.
“Thanks not just for serving us hot coffee and the warm
beds. Thanks for serving alongside us.”
For the USO, there's still more to be done, said Sloan D.
Gibson, the organization's new president and chief executive
“I've watched a soldier take the time to record a video for
his children back home,” he said. “Reading a book for a
bedside story was his small effort to help dull the pain his
loved ones felt during their long separation.
“This is the sacrifice that demands that we do more,” he
And more, he vowed, USO would do.
“If doing more only represents half of our full potential,
it's still not enough,” Gibson said. “My pledge to you is
that we will work to seize the full potential that stands
before us. The sacrifice and the service of our troops and
their families around the world deserve nothing less.”
Gibson replaces former USO president and chief executive
officer Edward A. Powell, who served the organization in
that capacity for nearly seven years.
The USO also chose Virginia U.S. Sen. John Warner as its
Spirit of the USO Award recipient for his “unwavering
leadership and support for America's servicemen and women.”
Warner's wife accepted the award on his behalf. The senator
was participating in a late-night vote on the proposed
financial bailout package.
Article and photo by Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
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