America Supports You: USO Hands Out Awards at Gala Dinner
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 23, 2006 The United Service Organizations of Metropolitan Washington honored several individuals and the Miss America Organization here last night during its 23rd annual awards dinner.
Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (left), Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Donnelly (center), and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Ledsome talk at the USO of Metropolitan Washington Annual Awards Dinner, March 22. Giambastiani presented Donnelly with the Bronze Star Medal and Ledsome with a USO award. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sean P. Houlihan, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Miss America Organization received the "Legacy of Hope" award, which is named after long-time USO supporter Bob Hope, for its continued support of the U.S. armed forces. "This is a complete honor for us," Miss America 2006 Jennifer Berry said. "The Miss America Organization has supported the USO for years, and it's great to be a part of that. I'm just one of many Miss Americas who've been a part of this wonderful organization."
Berry said she has a special place in her heart for the military because her father and both of her grandfathers served in the Army. "I have a great appreciation for what the military does," she said.
Country music singer Craig Morgan received the USO of Metropolitan Washington Merit Award for his charity work and support of the U.S. military. Morgan has been overseas with the USO three times to entertain servicemembers and has visited wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on many occasions, USO officials said.
Morgan is a former Army Ranger who saw combat while serving in Panama in 1989. "I'm honored to receive this award," Morgan told American Forces Press Service. "I feel entertainers are obligated to give back, especially to those who make such huge sacrifices."
Morgan said he hoped his receiving the award would bring more attention to the importance of supporting military personnel. "It's an honor to get an award from an organization that serves the men and women who give so much to us," Morgan told the audience of more than 600 senior military, civilian and industry leaders before performing his hit song "That's What I Love About Sundays."
Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Elizabeth Carroll received the 2006 C. Haskell Small Award for Volunteerism. Carroll has volunteered between 20 to 100 hours per month as a paramedic in St. Mary's County, Md., since 1988, USO officials said.
Also attending the dinner was National Football League Hall of Famer John Riggins, who told American Forces Press Service that U.S. servicemembers "are literally the bedrock of our country."
Riggins had visited Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center earlier in the day. "I had a real education this afternoon," he said. "The courage to go into battle is one thing. But the courage it takes to face your life after the trauma of battle, that's the real thing."
The night's event also included Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presenting the Bronze Star Medal to Marine Sgt. Michael Donnelly.
Donnelly was leading a combat patrol in Iraq on Nov. 15 when he noticed a suspicious vehicle approaching his patrol. Donnelly instructed his driver to speed up toward the approaching vehicle to head it off. He and his driver dismounted and signaled for the vehicle to pull over, which it did momentarily before suddenly charging and detonating an explosive device. The explosion killed Donnelly's driver and caused serious injuries to his own lower extremities, USO officials said.
"This selfless action saved six other Marines from injury and perhaps death," Elaine Rogers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington, said.
Three other servicemembers -- Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Ledsome and Sgt. Neil Duncan and Pfc. Marissa Strock of the Army -- received awards from the USO during the dinner.