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Military Leaders, Stars Come Out for USO World Gala

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2007 – Top military officials and five servicemember heroes hobnobbed with an army of celebrities here last night during the USO World Gala.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Comedian Jeffrey Ross, left, presents the USO's Coast Guardsman of the Year award to Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel J. Walsh during the 66th annual USO World Gala in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel

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

Hundreds of guests were on hand at the National Building Museum for the exclusive, black-tie awards ceremony and celebration. The annual party is hosted by the USO, which has provided morale and recreational services to military members worldwide since 1941 and boasts a roster of 26,000 volunteers ranging from celebrity entertainers to civilian support groups.

“One of the things I always get asked by the troops is, ‘Do the American people support us?’” said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “One of the things you can point to very readily is USO, whether it be overseas when they come to us with entertainment, or overseas where we can stop in at their locations around the world, or right here at home at the airports, it’s a little bit of home.”

The USO presented an award to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England for his steadfast support of U.S. troops and USO programs.

“For over 230 years, great Americans have stepped forward in times of great threats to defend our freedoms and our liberties, and to extend individual freedom throughout the world,” he said. “As Americans, we have the belief that all people are destined to be free … and as more people are free, it secures our own freedom.

“Ultimately, the success of our military and our nation rests on the will, commitment, resolve and determination of the American people,” he said. “And no organization does more to support our military than the USO.”

The USO presented its first volunteer of the year award last night to Dave Wilson, a former Air Force airman who hails from Dover, Del. For four years, Wilson has volunteered at Dover Air Force Base, greeting servicemembers as they return from deployment. He also packs and ships care packages and other items to deployed troops, getting pallets abroad “by any means necessary.”

Five uniformed servicemembers received the USO’s Service Hero award last night. The audience stood and applauded Marine Sgt. Justin L. Clough, Army Spc. Marion D. Pettus III, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel J. Walsh, Air Force Senior Airman Nicole P. O’Hara, and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Samuel S. Jordan after stories that chronicled the servicemembers’ courage were read aloud by celebrity presenters.

Walsh’s award was presented by comedian Jeffrey Ross, who has traveled to U.S. military installations around the world to entertain troops.

“They’re the greatest crowds, so I get to try out my jokes and I really know if they work after a military show. It’s a morale boost for me; it puts life in perspective,” Ross said.

Ross said performing for troops is a “lifelong love affair.” The comedian plans to travel to Iraq in November to entertain troops, and he said he has some new material prepared.

“I’ll tell the story about my first trip when I was at the al Rashid hotel and my hotel room got hit with a mortar explosion,” he said, “at least that’s what I told the front desk when I checked out.

“These insurgents broke in and drank everything in the mini bar, made some long-distance calls and watched three dirty movies,” his shtick continued. “It was terrifying.”

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