USO Singles Out Special Award Winner at Annual Gala
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 15, 2005 The United Service Organizations revealed a well-kept secret during its annual gala here Sept. 14.
A surprised Mary Jo Myers steps on stage to accept the United Service Organizations' "Spirit of the USO" award during the annual USO gala in Washington on Sept. 14. Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, her husband, had worked with a USO official months earlier to name her as the award recipient instead of himself. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Hundreds of Defense Department personnel, government officials, community leaders and celebrities listened to Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers sing the troops' praises as he prepared to accept the "Spirit of the USO" award.
"I'll accept this award on behalf of the servicemen and women who are out there doing the job every day," Myers announced. "They're the ones who really deserve our gratitude and our appreciation. They're the ones that are going into harm's way and getting the mission done in very amazing ways."
But it turned out the award was not his to accept at all.
After the chairman's remarks, John Gottschalk, chairman of the USO World Board of Governors, stepped to the podium. Instead of giving Myers the award, he revealed a well-kept secret.
"(The chairman) and I agreed on this some time ago," he said. "The real hero that is unsung in the military is the military spouse and the family. Please join me in recognizing the 2005 USO award recipient, Mary Jo Myers."
"My goodness, I don't know whether I'm more surprised at this award or more surprised that my husband of 40 years can surprise me," she said with a laugh. Then she spoke of the "real heroes" in the room.
Mrs. Myers singled out patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center at nearby Bethesda, Md., who were attending the gala. They "have truly sacrificed in so many ways with life-altering injuries," she pointed out, "and those who have had the opportunity to meet them ... have life-altering experiences from being inspired by their nobility, their strength, their irrepressible optimism."
As her husband had done earlier in the evening, Mrs. Myers cast the light of her honor on the nation's men and women in uniform. "As honored as I am," she said, "it pales in comparison to the honor we've had to serve in the military these last 40 years and to serve alongside the kind of men and women we have in uniform. I'm in awe of each of them."
In those earlier remarks, the chairman showed that admiration is indeed a family affair in his household. He lauded not only the capability of today's military, but also its compassion. The servicemembers' efforts to make things better for those they come in contact with, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other location, were evident during every visit he made to those areas, Myers said.
"They aren't asked to do it," he said. "They just do it. And their stories are just like those five folks, those heroes we met tonight," referring to the USO's five Servicemembers of the Year, one from each branch of the military, who had received their awards that evening also.
Navy Chief Petty Officer James P. Moran was honored for his heroic efforts during operations in Fallujah in April 2004.
He was in charge of the Fallujah Berm Project for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. During the construction of the berm, or protective mound, he and his men took heavy enemy fire. During the engagement, Moran led his security team in returning fire while simultaneously directing bulldozing operations to complete the construction of a two-kilometer berm.
Instead of seeking safety at the completion of the project, he and his men assisted an adjacent engineering unit in constructing another kilometer of protective barrier while continuing to take and return fire.
"(The award) is definitely a great honor," Moran said. "(But) it's the hard work that all of my troops put into the mission we were on (that got) us through over there. So they're the real heroes."
Moran is assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 in Gulfport, Miss. With the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, he said he got to know the flip side of being safe but wondering about the safety of loved ones.
He is currently working with a detachment in California and was not at his Mississippi home when the hurricane struck Aug. 29. Until he was able to return home a few days later, he wasn't sure about his family's safety.
"I had contact with my wife up through about maybe the first two hours of the storm, and then I lost contact after she told me a branch came into our living room," he said. "I kind of now know when I'm deployed into places like Iraq what my wife and daughter have to go through when they know where I'm at and they're seeing stuff on the news but they're not able to hear from me."
Others servicemembers received USO honors as well.
Army Spc. William T. Groves, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., was honored for risking his life on several occasions to save wounded soldiers and local citizens as his company battled insurgents in Iraq. The Army awarded him the Army Commendation Medal with a valor device and the Combat Medic Badge.
Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Anderson, currently at the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, Calif., volunteered to serve with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He was recognized for his leadership, skill and bravery during multiple combat operations in Iraq.
One incident involving him occurred during the push to Baghdad in early stages of the war in 2003. Injured twice while clearing a bunker, he went on to clear two more bunkers and escort prisoners to a collection point. Anderson has been nominated for the Bronze Star Medal with a combat "V" device.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph K. Carpenter is with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. In September 2004, he was attached to an advance reconnaissance element in support of an elite Navy SEAL team.
His honor resulted from heroic and selfless actions in saving the lives of at least three soldiers after his convoy was ambushed in Afghanistan. Once all wounded personnel had been evacuated, he volunteered to return to the ambush site and recover vital intelligence data.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Zee O. Lee was aboard a Coast Guard helicopter when a tanker caught fire and exploded off the coast of Virginia. Without regard for his own safety, according to his citation, he asked to be lowered down into the slick of ethanol and diesel fuel to retrieve one of the victims who had been seen waving to the crew. Once the then-lifeless victim was in the helicopter, Lee began cardiopulmonary resuscitation and continued until the victim was transferred to a waiting ambulance.
The USO is a nonprofit organization founded in 1941 for the purpose of providing morale and recreation services to uniformed military personnel. The organization's "Spirit of the USO" award is presented annually to an individual or organization that "makes it possible for the USO to fulfill its mission of maintaining the link between U.S. military personnel and the American people," according to the USO Web site.
Comedian Jeff Ross, performer Wayne Newton and country singer Neal McCoy provided the gala's entertainment. Local opera singer Harolyn Blackwell led the audience in singing "God Bless America" just before dinner.