More 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.”
The 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.
Army Veteran, USO Entertainer
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 serving.”
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 forward.
“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 Korea.
By Jim Garamone
DOD News / Defense Media Activity
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