The 2015 USO Service Members and Volunteers of the Year have several stories of selfless service.
The honorees at Tuesday’s USO Gala will be lauded for their lifesaving actions on the battlefield or for the extraordinary way they put themselves before others. But they also have compelling back stories that show how they got to this point. We asked their parents, friends and mentors to share stories about what the 2015 USO honorees were like before they joined the military. Here are three entries from what they sent us back.
Spc. Christian Sheers, USO Soldier of the Year
Sheers, an Army combat medic, was selected as USO Soldier of the Year for actions earlier this year in Afghanistan, when he put his life on the line to save others and eliminate the threat during an April 8 surprise attack on a U.S. diplomatic delegation.
According to his mother, Cynthia Sheers, he’s been looking out for people from a young age.
“Christian’s father is an academic physician in Akron,” Cynthia Sheers wrote in a recent email. “As a child, when Dr. Sheers would round – or see patients in the hospital on the weekend – his sons would sometimes tag along. Christian had a special desire to help others. His interest in serving is illustrated by two anecdotes.
“As a small child, he once disappeared from where he was drawing at the nurses’ station while his father saw a patient in their room. Noticing his son was missing, Dr. Sheers went to the corridor and listened. He followed the sound of laughter, and found 3-year-old Christian tucked beside an 80-year-old patient in her bed, both laughing as she asked what he was doing in the hospital all alone. ‘Rounding’ was his answer.
“Several years later, Dr. Sheers would occasionally griddle pancakes for his office staff for breakfast. Hearing of this, a nurse asked why he had never cooked breakfast for the floor nurses. Knowing he was assigned to round on Christmas Day, he left with all three of his sons in tow at 4:30 a.m. and they provided pancakes, eggs and bacon for the appreciative staff on Christmas morning. What was supposed to be a one-time event, however, was not enough for Christian. The following year, he insisted that they repeat this act. This began a tradition of thanking the floor staff on the sixth floor at Akron Children’s Hospital for their service.
“As Christian began dating his wife, Jess, he dragged her along on Christmas morning. When he enlisted in the Army and arrived home on leave, he again returned to flip pancakes. This last year, prior to deployment [and despite struggling with a fever and pneumonia], he got up Christmas morning to go again. Only his wife and father’s plea that his attendance would actually put people at risk dissuaded him from attending his eighth Christmas breakfast in 10 years. Those nurses and staff have seen him grow from a boy ‘rounding’ into a soldier serving.”
Senior Airman T.J. Brantley, USO Airman of the Year
Brantley was selected as the USO Airman of the year in part because of his actions in Afghanistan in May 2014 that saved the life of a wounded Army officer. But long before that, he was a kid in Muleshoe, Texas, who followed his heart.
“From early on when he received the principal’s award for taking care of a handicapped classmate to present he follows his heart,” Curby and Kay Lynn Brantley wrote in an email. “He can be as stubborn as they come or cry with the best of them. No matter what he does he is completely committed.
“T.J. received the Fighting Heart Award in athletics his senior year, not because he was the best athlete. It was the way he played every sport and the way he treated others. His actions on and off of the playing field made everyone realize there was just something special about him. …
“T.J attended over three years of college before he told us his life was not really going where he wanted to go. He had a girlfriend at the time and nearly a college degree, but there was something missing. He came to us on a Christmas Eve with the idea he would join the military and grow up. He joined and several months later he proposed to the love of his life, Staci.
“He always follows his heart, never worrying if things will be hard or not. He always knows that with hard work and a caring, tender and driven heart he will be OK. Soon to be parents, T.J. and Staci will have the opportunity to instill those same loving heats in their child.”
Eric Chun, USO Overseas Volunteer of the Year
Chun, who recently entered military service, spent the last several years volunteering at USO Guam. To hear USO Guam Duty Manager Jadine Lujan tell it, he’s always been drawn to service.
“He is a soda stacking wizard, T-shirt rolling beast, cupcake connoisseur and champion of the crane game,” Lujan wrote in an email. “Of the many things that can describe Eric Chun, the most unforgettable impression he leaves is being someone you can always count on. He has been an incredible USO Guam supporter throughout his three years of volunteer service.
“Eric’s favorite way to spend his free time was volunteering for the USO and helping troops and families fall in love with the center and the island. He could listen to veterans tell stories and share experiences all day. There was never a task too small or too big for him to accomplish. He enjoyed being challenged and firmly believed that anything worth doing was worth doing right. He would find creative solutions to any issues and often volunteered to lead the most laborious tasks that he joked served as his PT. He was always courteous and always there whenever guests or fellow volunteers needed him most.”
Editor’s note: Family quotes slightly edited and condensed for style.