By USO Staff
The USO is honored to name the 2019 USO Service Members of the Year. Get to know this year’s honorees:
Staff Sgt. Adam J. Wasson | USO Airman of the Year 2019
4th Civil Engineer Squadron | Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina
Adam Wasson is in charge of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Plans and Intelligence. He is responsible for developing intelligence briefings and manages flight operations for 23 personnel to support 24-hour response standby teams.
During an unpredictable deployment in support of SOCOM, Wasson provided explosive ordnance disposal support during more than three dozen missions into non-permissive combat areas. His knowledge and skill enabled the execution of 500 fire missions supporting coalition operations. Stepping outside his primary duties, Wasson provided assistance to a combat surgical team rendering aid during two mass casualty incidents. His actions were instrumental in the care of the wounded and saved the lives of 14 coalition partners.
At home, Wasson actively supports his community by mentoring 25 members of the Goldsboro High School Baseball team as their manager, providing guidance both on and off the field. He has also taken his professional skills to law enforcement departments in the community and has taught 40 law enforcement officers proper handling techniques for hazardous explosives. This has augmented the safety of his local police officers when they encounter dangerous explosive hazards.
Wasson, a Kansas native who joined the Air Force in 2014, was deployed in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, and was selected 2018 Airman of the Year, 4th Fighter Wing.
Sgt. Ty E. Able | USO Soldier of the Year 2019
1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment | Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia
Ty Able, a native of Carlsbad, New Mexico, has distinguished himself in the Special Operations community. While serving as a Combat Medic in support of Operation FREEDOM’S SENTINEL, Able performed triage and multiple advanced medical procedures while under heavy enemy fire during a direct action operation to remove enemy forces in Afghanistan.
Able responded to the call of three friendly casualties during the initial phases of the operation by first assessing two minimally wounded casualties and directing teammates on how to continue sustaining medical treatments. He turned his attention to the critically wounded casualty and immediately administered whole blood product to minimize fatal consequences of a rapid non-compressible hemorrhage. As Able moved the three friendly casualties toward the helicopter landing zone, he was engaged by an enemy machine gun and fragmentation grenade from close range which caused an additional casualty.
Able established a Casualty Collection Point to manage the critically wounded casualties and continued administering life-saving blood product while lying in the prone position and under enemy direct fire. He also performed an advanced surgical procedure known as a tubal thoracotomy while being engaged by the enemy. While still in direct fire contact, Able initiated a blood transfer protocol while in the prone position that was later administered to maintain the pulse of a critically injured teammate.
Able relocated his teammates multiple times to provide cover and concealment for the four wounded casualties, even covering them with his own body at one point to further protect them. As the wounded were loaded onto a helicopter, Able provided necessary cover by returning fire toward the enemy and continued until the helicopter could get off the ground. While on the aircraft, he resumed treating the casualties until they reached a treatment facility.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Nathan Newberg | USO Coast Guardsman of the Year 2019
U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Savannah, Georgia
Nathan Newberg has demonstrated remarkable skill and resourcefulness under arduous conditions to rescue private citizens from vessels under a variety of unique circumstances.
Newberg participated in a 3:00 AM response to a 600-foot freighter listing 80 degrees off the Georgia coast with 24 persons on board. Newberg was lowered from a helicopter to find the ship’s captain and harbor pilot trapped inside the bridge of the sinking ship and unable to climb out to safety. Realizing standard hoisting procedures would not be an effective means of rescue, he quickly inventoried his surroundings and demonstrated uncanny on-scene innovation as he formulated plans for alternate extraction measures. With exceptional physical prowess and balance, he disconnected from the helicopter and traversed the side of the vessel to obtain two fire hoses that could be used to rescue the crew. Using climbing and rappelling techniques, he descended into the ship’s bridge and established communication with the two survivors, facilitating their rescue in the dark of night. The ship continued to increase the degree of list and was nearly on its side with an uncontained ship’s fire. Collective efforts of other Coast Guard assets rescued all 24 of the ship’s crew.
He participated in a medical evacuation of an elderly female who had fallen down an entire flight of stairs on a cruise ship and was unconscious from visible head trauma. Battling deteriorating weather conditions, Newberg was lowered from a helicopter in driving rain and wind of 35 knots. Once on board of the vessel, Newberg worked with the ship’s doctor to stabilize the patient and prepared her for transport into the awaiting helicopter by means of the rescue litter. After the patient was safely in the helicopter, Newberg and the ship’s doctor were hoisted to the helicopter by performing a double pick up hoist of both simultaneously. During transport, Newberg rendered continued medical care until the patient could be transferred to a hospital.
In 2019 alone, Newberg has amassed over 120 aerial flight hours in support of Coast Guard missions and participated in 16 search and rescue cases.
Earlier this year, he participated in recovery efforts of the Coast Guard’s final remaining missing in action personnel from World War II in Greenland which had been ongoing since 2009. Newberg was personally selected for this mission due to his technical skills as a seasoned climber and medical technician as well as his work ethic and demeanor. He is a native of Oregon.
Sgt. Phoebe Renae Ortiz | USO Marine of the Year 2019
Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California
Phoebe Ortiz served as a Food Service Specialist until 2017, when she was selected to attend the Animal Packers Course held at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center.
She was then selected as an Animal Packers Instructor. To further contribute to the betterment of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Phoebe Ortiz qualified for and attended the elite Marine Corps Summer Mountain Leaders Course, a course normally reserved for infantry leaders. The Mountain Leaders Course provided instruction in mountain tactics, mountaineering techniques to include technical rope and lead climbing skills and planning considerations for combat operations in a complex, compartmentalized and mountainous terrain set at ranges from 6,800 to 11,500 feet above sea level.
Upon her graduation, she earned the distinction of becoming the first, from the two first female Marines to ever qualify as a Summer Mountain leader. She then applied her previously-acquired experience as a Food Service Specialist to train others on food service considerations in high altitude and harsh cold weather environments. A technical rope expert, Ortiz instructed logistics Marines during each exercise in technical rope skills relevant to the transportation of supplies and personnel in high-angle and compartmentalized terrain, dramatically increasing the logistical capabilities of the training battalion.
Recognizing a critical instructor shortage in the Mountain Medicine (MMED) Instructor Cadre, Ortiz then volunteered to augment MMED and mastered four rescue systems to qualify as a MMED instructor. She distinguished herself by providing one-on-one training and extra attention to students struggling with course proficiency. Her investment in the students directly resulted in the highest MMED course pass rates recorded in five years. She personally mentored and trained four new potential MMED instructors in preparation for Mountain Leader Course, all of whom passed.
Ortiz volunteered as a member of the Single Marine Program Committee to alleviate the stress of isolation she noted in her fellow barracks Marines serving in a remote and austere duty station. Her contributions and unique creativity resulted in several new events, including multiple cookouts, trips to local attractions and overnight hiking trips to national parks. A California native who joined the Marine Corps in 2015, Ortiz has also volunteered to support events in her community including the Bridgeport Fourth of July Rodeo, Coleville High School, the Marine Reconnaissance Foundation 2020 Gold Star Family Retreat, and the Mountain Warfare Training Center Foundation.
Staff Sgt. Jami DeVries | USO National Guardsman of the Year 2019
140th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard | Aurora, Colorado
Jami DeVries is serving her home state of Colorado and her nation through her service in the Colorado Air National Guard.
At the conclusion of a 24-hour shift supporting the Aerospace Control Alert mission, DeVries witnessed a catastrophic motorcycle accident. She immediately took action, taking control of the chaotic accident scene, directing bystanders to assist the motorist who collided with the motorcycle while focusing her attention on the injured rider who sustained a severe leg injury. By maintaining her composure in this stressful situation and using her military training, she applied a tourniquet to the motorcyclist’s leg to curtail the bleeding until emergency medical services arrived.
Once the rider was transported to the hospital, DeVries remained with the motorist to assess his mental wellbeing and found that he was visibly distraught. Utilizing her training as a victim advocate for the Thornton Police Department, DeVries stayed at the scene of the accident to comfort the motorist and assisted him in completing all paperwork associated with the incident.
Her quick actions assisted medical personnel in transporting a critically injured patient, ultimately saving his life. DeVries played an instrumental role in supporting the Thornton Police Department by ensuring that witnesses were available for interviews. A local news channel reported that her actions prevented serious safety hazards for thousands of Denver metro commuters by averting traffic delays on a major interstate highway.
Yeoman John M. Norman | USO Sailor Of the Year 2019
Naval Air Station North Island (Coronado), San Diego, California
John Norman, while off-duty, was driving home with his spouse and stopped at a traffic light in Imperial Beach, CA. He noticed two adult men arguing in the middle of the road. One walked into a store and the other approached a woman who was standing on the sidewalk nearby.
The man pushed the woman onto the ground and proceeded to assault her. Norman parked his vehicle nearby and called 911. The offender’s assault of the woman escalated and Norman feared that the woman’s life was in jeopardy. He intervened by getting out of his vehicle and approached the offender who proceeded to throw bricks at him.
The offender let the female victim rise to her feet and continued walking down the sidewalk with the victim. He then began to run. Norman pursued him on foot while continuing to talk to Police Dispatch. The offender renewed his assaults on the woman with increased physical violence. Norman ultimately tackled the offender and restrained him until law enforcement officers arrived.
Norman’s heroic actions unquestionably saved the life of a fellow resident of his community. He has qualified as an Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist, earned a Department of Labor United Services Military Apprenticeship Program Certification, won Bluejacket of the Quarter for Second Quarter 2019, Blue Hawk of the Month in August 2019, and Bluejacket of the Year. Additionally, he was awarded a Flag Letter of Commendation for his role in the 10-Star Battle of Midway Reception, which was host to more than 700 guests including veterans, local Flag and General Officers, and distinguished guests in the community.
A native of Texas, Norman strives to be involved throughout the community both at home and while deployed. His community service includes an Elementary School beautification project in Hawaii, Save the Bay/Imperial Beach Cleanup, Jacobs and Cushman’s Food Bank Volunteer, the Veteran’s Strength War Competition, and the San Diego Big Brother/Big Sister Program.