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America Supports You: USO Gala Honors Exemplary Service

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

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 applause.

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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. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“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 example.”

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 day’s work.

“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 ambushed.

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 machinery technician.

“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 30-year career.

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, said.

“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 appreciation.

“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 officer.

“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 added.

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.

Contact Author

Biographies:
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

Related Sites:
United Service Organizations


Click photo for screen-resolution imageABC news veteran Sam Donaldson and his wife, Jan Smith Donaldson, served as masters of ceremony for the 2008 USO World Gala in Washington on Oct. 1, 2008. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA joint-service color guard presents the colors at the beginning of the 2008 USO World Gala in Washington on Oct. 1, 2008. USO honored one servicemember from each of the five branches for their exemplary service. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageComedian Robin William performs during the 2008 USO World Gala in Washington on Oct. 1, 2008. Williams, who has traveled with USO tours to entertain troops, made a surprise appearance during the dinner and then, very seriously, explained why he feels the need to participate with the USO. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSesame Street star Elmo shares his ideas for how he could help the United Service Organizations with Gary Knell, Sesame Workshop president. The two addressed the crowd gathered for the 2008 USO World Gala in Washington on Oct. 1, 2008, to let them know about Sesame Workshop's partnership with USO. The program "The Sesame Street Experience," is a free, traveling tour for military families. It's part of the Workshop's "Talk, Listen, Connect," program that helps military families handle the stresses of military life. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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