than a thousand people turned out to help the
United Service Organizations celebrate its 75th Anniversary at a
star-studded gala at the Daughters of the American Revolution
Constitution Hall on October 20, 2016.
Air Force Gen. Paul J.
Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put the gala
in perspective by noting the USO has been with the troops and their
families every step of the way since it was established just before
America's entry into World War II.
More than 35 million
Americans have served in the U.S. military since the founding of the
USO. The organization brings “a bit of home” to American service
members doing the nation's business far from America, said J.D.
Crouch II, the USO's chief executive officer and president.
As the American military has changed, Crouch said, so too, has the
USO, with the organization providing support to family members and
with transition assistance. The organization helps keep military
families in contact, and helps connect Americans to their armed
forces -- a very necessary mission since such a small proportion of
Americans serve today.
USO's Work is Real
“The work the USO
does is real,” said Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe
Biden, and an enthusiastic USO supporter. “The impact is real. One
thing we say in the Biden family … is that our country has one
sacred obligation: to equip those we send to war and to care for
them and their families during deployments and when they return
home. This commitment to our military and their families is
something that … the USO does better than anyone else.”
USO's entertainment mission is probably the best known part of the
organization, and stars, old and new, attended the gala in force.
The Vietnam generation got to meet Ann-Margret, who was a
mainstay of Bob Hope's legendary trips to entertain troops during
the Vietnam War. The actress said she treasured all her USO moments.
“There were so many,” she said on the red carpet. “Through the
years, all the little notes I'd get backstage from veterans that say
‘I saw you in Danang or Cu Chi, on the Yorktown or the Kitty Hawk,'
these are all things to treasure.”
Country musicians Kellie
Pickler and her husband Kyle Jacobs, veterans of more USO tours
since 9/11 than anyone, attended and said they have plans to do
another USO tour.
As an Army veteran and country
star, Craig Morgan has been on both sides of the USO -- as a service
member far from home, and as an USO entertainer. “I remember being
in Korea as a service member and a group called Sawyer Brown came
over and did a show for us and it felt like a piece of home,” he
said. “I think that's what the USO does better than any other
organization. They [bring] home to those men and women who are
Chef Robert Irvine, another multi-tour USO
veteran,, said his visit to Afghanistan in 2013 “was life-changing.”
He said he got an idea of the hardships the troops go through, and
the way they work together to accomplish the mission and move
“The USO has so many programs and so many things to
help our folks, and I am so happy to help, and it's a humbling
experience,” he said.
The Zac Brown Band provided
entertainment for the black-tie crowd, and did a fantastic version
of their song “Free” that segued into Van Morrison's hit “Into the
Mystic” and then back to Free. They also did their song “Chicken
Fried.” The band was actually entertaining troops in Iraq in 2008
when they received word that the song had hit No. 1 on the charts.
Service Members of the Year
October 20, 2016 - Air Force Staff Sgt. Clinton Brown, USO National Guardsman of the Year; Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Steidell, USO Coast Guardsman of the Year; Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan Bellio, USO Airman of the Year; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Gary Arbuckle, USO Sailor of the Year; Marine Sgt. Terryn Thompson, USO Marine of the Year; and Army 1st Sgt. Melanie Scott, USO Soldier of the Year, at the 2016 USO Gala, Washington, D.C. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)
The USO recognized six service members as their 2016 Service
Members of the Year during the gala. They are:
USO Soldier of the Year: Army 1st Sgt.
Melanie D. Scott, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Osan Air
Base, Pyeongtaek, South Korea
USO Marine of the Year: Marine Corps Sgt.
Terryn K. Thompson, Marine Air Control Squadron 4, 1st Marine
Air Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan
USO Sailor of the Year: Navy Petty
Officer 2nd Class Gary L. Arbuckle Jr., Carrier Airborne Early
Warning Squadron 125
USO Airman of the Year: Air Force Staff
Sgt. Jonathan R. Bellio, 338th Training Squadron, 81st Training
Wing, Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Mississippi
USO Coast Guardsman of the Year: Coast
Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard A. Steidell, Coast Guard
Station Islamorada, Florida
USO National Guardsman of the Year: Air
Force Staff Sgt. Clinton E. Brown, 184th Intelligence Wing,
Kansas Air National Guard, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas.
The USO lives and breathes because of its
volunteers. The organization awarded the Janice K. Emmert USO
Volunteer of the Year Award to Ron Meier of the Bob Hope USO in Palm
Springs, California; and Ralph Nelsen of the USO in Osan, South
By Jim Garamone
DOD News / Defense Media Activity
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