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USO Honors Military Heroes at Gala Event

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2004 – Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan P. Dementer, a hospital corpsman, does not consider himself a hero. He says he was just "doing his job" when he treated 31 Marines wounded during an attack on their battalion command center in Iraq.

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Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan P. Dementer and his wife, Jerri, attend the Oct. 14 USO Gala in Washington, D.C. Dementer was named the USO Sailor of the Year for his heroism in Iraq. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn
  

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

The United Service Organizations disagrees with Dementer's assessment of his heroic actions. The USO honored the corpsman and four other enlisted men, one from each service branch, at the 2004 USO Gala here Oct. 14.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs vice chairman, and top officer and enlisted personnel from each of the services, as well as numerous entertainment celebrities, saluted the heroes.

Myers said the five servicemember heroes represent all the men and women in the armed forces. "And I would submit that they're all heroes," he said.

USO President Edward A. Powell presented the 2004 Service Hero of the Year awards to Dementer, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Laurence D. Nettles, Army Sgt. Christopher David Holbrook, Marine Sgt. Nicanor A. Galvan, and Air Force Senior Airman Nicholas P. Semonelle.

"I can't imagine how I got chosen," said Dementer, of Gladstone, Mich. "It's such an honor to be able to be here tonight, just for doing my job.

"As a corpsmen going out with the Marines, we train to go out and patch people up and get them back into the fight," he said. "To get an award for going out with a unit such as 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines -- this is awesome."

Dementer had been in Iraq for about a month when insurgents attacked the unit's command headquarters. USO officials honored Dementer for his courage under fire, leading directly to the life-saving treatment and the evacuation of 31 Marines.

Although wounded, Dementer provided medical care to others and, without regard for his own safety or his own injuries, went to another part of the compound to treat a group of Marines pinned down under enemy fire, according to information provided in the event program. While under attack, he administered treatment, stabilizing their injuries, and coordinating their evacuation.

Dementer's combat experience has deepened his commitment to his cohorts. He said he expects to again deploy with the Marines either to Afghanistan or Iraq sometime in the future. "I'm proud to serve with the Marines," he said. "I can't imagine doing anything else. I love my job."

Dementer's wife, Jerri, said she's always been proud of her husband. "Now I'm just glad the rest of the world can see what a great guy he is," she said. If Dementer deploys again, she said, "then I will always support him and stay here and take care of the kids and love him and pray for him to come home safely."

Dementer is now assigned to the Naval Hospital Corps School, Great Lakes, Ill.

The Coast Guard's Nettles, a nine-year veteran, echoed Dementer's sentiments about being a hero. "I feel like I'm being spoiled for just doing my job," he said. "I couldn't imagine a job more rewarding than being a helicopter rescue swimmer."

The USO honored Nettles for his skill and bravery while rescuing passengers from a sinking vessel during a hurricane. He fought heavy seas to rescue two passengers, and even though he and a third survivor were pushed under water by a breaking wave, he was able to regain control and rescue the third survivor. He then returned and rescued the last survivor.

Nettles said he spent 45 minutes in the water that day. "It was very windy, rainy, zero visibility in a helicopter," he said. "(The) seas had about 20- to 30-foot waves, and it was pretty ugly."

Nettles, a self-proclaimed "government brat" whose home is where he "rests his rump," said he swims about 1,000 yards a day, runs three to five miles, and lifts weights for an hour. He plans on making the Coast Guard his career. "They'll have to physically force me out," he said.

The USO also honored the Army's Holbrook, an infantry team leader from St. Paul, Minn., for his selfless and courageous actions in saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.

While a member of a squad providing escort duties for a civilian team working to restore oil production in Iraq, the convoy Holbrook was escorting was ambushed, according to information in the event program. Although seriously wounded, he continued to drive when the convoy was ambushed again. By this time, seven of the ten soldiers in the convoy had been wounded. Despite his injuries, Holbrook continued driving, breaking through the ambush zone and making it back to base so the wounded could get medical treatment.

"We didn't just drive through the ambush," he said. "We got out, and we killed a bunch of the insurgents. Luckily, I think because we did react, we didn't die."

When military officials examined the area after the attack, he said, they found four daisy-chain unexploded improvised explosive devices right next to the road.

"Either we killed one of the guys that was going to set off the IED," Holbrook said, "or we caused chaos and confusion because the majority of the units over there, when they react to an ambush, they drive through it. We got out. We reacted. We took a toll on the enemy. Even though the seven of us were wounded, we still did the job."

Holbrook, who's slated to deploy to Afghanistan in February or March, said "it's good to be an infantry team leader in the Army, seeing policy first hand, because you're influencing things over there."

Holbrook noted that he appreciates the USO's honor on behalf of his fellow soldiers and the organization's efforts to support the troops. Holbrook is assigned to 2nd Airborne Battle Group, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy.

The USO also honored the Marine Corps' Galvan, of Waco, Texas, for inspiring and saving the lives of his fellow Marines. When his company was ordered to clear the battalion's advance to Baghdad, Galvan's platoon was able to close in on the enemy while enemy fire pinned down the rest of the company. The first to rush forward under heavy sniper fire, according to USO officials, he led his squad by example, giving them the courage to close in on and destroy the enemy position.

Galvan, a six-year Marine veteran, is now a combat instructor at the School of Infantry, Combat Marine Training Battalion, at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He said he advises his students to "always be at the alert, ready to go, set the example, look alert, and be ready for anything."

The Air Force's Semonelle was honored for his unhesitating courage in saving the lives of two children.

Seeing smoke coming from a home and learning that children were trapped inside, Semonelle entered the burning structure and began a systematic search to try to find the children. He rescued one child and, without hesitation and regard for his own personal safety, risked his life to go back inside the home, now ablaze and filled with smoke, to locate and rescue the second child.

Semonelle is assigned to 435th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

In a letter to the USO included in the gala's program, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the nonprofit organization has been a link between the American people and the nation's fighting forces for more than 60 years.

The secretary noted the USO has opened centers in Qatar and Kuwait and will soon open another in Afghanistan. The new center will be dedicated to ex- National Football League star Pat Tillman, who left professional football to join the Army Rangers and was killed in action in Afghanistan.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe USO 2004 Service Heroes of the Year display their awards at the Oct. 14 USO Gala in Washington, D.C. From left to right: Army Sgt. Christopher D. Holbrook, Marine Sgt. Nicanor A. Galvan, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan P. Dementer, Air Force Senior Airman Nicholas P. Semonelle, and Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Laurence D. Nettles. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe USO 2004 Service Heroes of the Year display their awards at the Oct. 14 USO Gala in Washington, D.C. From left to right: Army Sgt. Christopher D. Holbrook, Marine Sgt. Nicanor A. Galvan, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan P. Dementer, Air Force Senior Airman Nicholas P. Semonelle, and Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Laurence D. Nettles. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn  
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