Meet the 2024 USO Service Members of the Year

The USO is honored to name the 2024 USO Service Members of the Year, who are being recognized for their heroic and selfless actions.

Each year, people who serve in each of the military branches are nominated by their command leadership for performing extraordinary acts of bravery that exemplify the values of the Armed Forces and the USO. Get to know this year’s honorees:

Master Sgt. Louis Perry Jr. | USO Guardian of the Year 2024

Character. Connection. Commitment. Courage. Those are each of the U.S. Space Force characteristics that Master Sgt. Louis Perry Jr. exhibited during a two-day deployment exercise, when he was overseeing 249 airmen and guardians during their combat skills training.

Master Sgt. Louis Perry Jr. | USO Guardian of the Year 2024 | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

When his specific unit was conducting various obstacles during training, he noticed several members that were experiencing heat stress-related illnesses. After closley assessing and aiding these service members, he was able to get the team back on task without a casualty.

While the team was receiving one of their mandatory deployment briefs, four service members began to suffer from heat strokes. As the first responder, he immediately assessed the situation, facilitated the use of ice sheets and provided aid to keep all the service members conscious. He then oversaw their transfer into emergency medical care. Due to his high situational awareness and swift, specific actions in this emergency, Louis was responsible for preserving the lives of the airmen and guardians.

Master Sgt. Louis Perry Jr. is originally from Clarksville, Tennessee, and is currently stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Senior Airman Travis J. Spong | USO Airman of the Year 2024

On April 30, 2023, Senior Airman Travis J. Spong distinguished himself by an act of heroism at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, when Travis witnessed a major off-base automobile accident in which a motorist was ejected from his vehicle and thrown onto the highway. Without hesitation, he sprang into quick response and applied lifesaving actions.

Senior Airman Travis J. Spong | USO Airman of the Year 2024 | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

With complete disregard for his own safety, Travis urgently crossed two lanes of traffic to rescue the man with severe life-threatening injuries. Displaying impressive composure throughout the chaos, he instinctively secured the scene, called for Qatari Emergency Services and began providing tactical combat casualty care actions.

While waiting for emergency services to arrive, Travis carefully stabilized the victim’s neck, applied a tourniquet to his severed leg, checked his vital signs and examined him for additional injuries. Furthermore, he stayed with the victim, keeping him calm and reassured until emergency medical personnel arrived. Travis’ prompt actions and humanitarian regard for his fellow man reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Senior Airman Travis J. Spong is from Lanark, Illinois, and is currently stationed at Misawa Air Base in Japan.

Sgt. Tanner Welch | USO Soldier of the Year 2024

On August 17, 2023, Sgt. Tanner Welch distinguished himself by decisively responding to a notice of a couple who had gone missing in the mountains near Fairbanks, Alaska. Inspired to help these missing – and possibly injured – hikers, Tanner requested four-days of leave from his chain of command and immediately flew to Fairbanks to link up with the search efforts. Upon arrival, he learned the couple had been reported missing for three days.

Sgt. Tanner Welch | USO Soldier of the Year 2024 | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

Working with Alaska State Troopers, Tanner began the search efforts and established a treatment site at the operations center. Then, a report came in that the male hiker had been identified on a trail near the operations center. The hiker was brought to the treatment site, where Tanner triaged the victim and began asking questions as to the location of the still missing female hiker. Dehydrated and disoriented, the male hiker was unable to provide specifics, therefore Tanner lead the Alaska State Trooper K9 team to the location where the male hiker was found. The team moved to the top of the mountain and began a slow descent looking for signs of the female hiker.

At one point, Tanner heard the faint sound of a female voice below his position, and moved towards the sound. He eventually found the missing woman in a ravine, and immediately stabilized her. With low cloud cover and no air assets to extract her, Tanner secured the hiker for transport and pulled her out of the ravine, eventually reaching a trail where an ATV rescue team was able to transport her down the mountain.

Tanner’s actions saved the lives of two hikers from in the mountains of Alaska. His actions on this day are indicative of his selfless service and commitment to the community.

Tanner demonstrates the warrior spirit of his formation, and he continues to demonstrate how the Army’s work in their local communities endears them to the American people.

Sgt. Tanner Welch is originally from Anchorage, Alaska, and is currently stationed there at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Capt. James Horn | USO National Guardsman of the Year 2024

During the 2023 New Year’s holiday, Capt. James Horn demonstrated exemplary conduct and courage during a critical incident. While traversing a busy intersection between two interstates, James witnessed a harrowing car accident. He immediately pulled his vehicle over in a safe location and dialed 9-1-1, then rushed to render aid to the victims of the crash. His quick thinking and disregard for personal safety under dangerous conditions were crucial in averting further disaster and providing immediate assistance to those injured.

Capt. James Horn | USO National Guardsman of the Year 2024 | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

Shortly after, another vehicle collided with the wreckage, propelling James over the car’s hood. Despite his injuries, he displayed remarkable fortitude and continued to ensure the safety and care of the accident victims until help arrived.

James’ heroism serves as a testament to the courage, dedication and compassion that defines our service members.

Additionally, James embodies the spirit of service through his extensive volunteer work with the USO Center at Saint Louis-Lambert International Airport, contributing over 100 hours and assisting more than 4,000 troops and families during weekends and special holidays. As a service member and USO volunteer he lives a selfless life and dedicates his service to inspire others.

Capt. James Horn is originally from O’Fallon, Missouri, and is currently stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

Sgt. Brett D. Meil | USO Marine of the Year 2024

On June 13, 2023, Sgt. Brett D. Meil demonstrated extraordinary bravery while serving as a safety officer during a grenade live-fire range. While preparing to throw a fragmentation grenade, a Marine in training inadvertently released, igniting grenade’s internal fuse. Identifying the imminent danger, Brett instructed the Marine to throw the grenade into the designated target area. However, the student was frozen with indecision and unable to act – with mere seconds before detonation. As time continued to run out, Brett courageously intervened, forcibly removing the live grenade from the Marine’s hand and pulling both to safety.

Sgt. Brett D. Meil | USO Marine of the Year 2024 | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

In the act of moving his student to safety, Brett realized the grenade had bounced out of the grenade pit and landed well within the effective casualty radius of the now prone Marines. Without hesitation and with great risk to himself, Brett shielded the student with his own body. The subsequent detonation resulted in numerous shrapnel wounds across his body, but his unwavering actions saved the life of his student and fellow Marine, who suffered only minor injuries.

Within weeks, Brett recovered from the effects of the blast and resumed his duties as an instructor, continuing to excel as one of the Marine Corps’ premier combat instructors.

Brett’s unwavering courage and decisive actions in the face of personal risk exemplify the highest standards of conduct expected of Marines. His heroic dedication to his profession and the safety of a fellow Marine reflects great credit upon himself, upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Sgt. Brett D. Meil is originally from Kerrville, Texas, and is currently stationed at Camp Pendleton, California.

Machinist Mate 2nd Class Royston N. Pitt | USO Sailor of the Year 2024

While off duty on September 22, 2023, Petty Officer 2nd Class Royston N. Pitt distinguished himself by decisively responding and preventing a fellow service member from accessing a firearm and ammunition onboard the largest “A” school in the Navy.

Machinist Mate 2nd Class Royston N. Pitt | USO Sailor of the Year 2024 | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

At the Navy Medicine Training Support Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Royston was initially notified by an on-duty student that someone had entered the building with a suspicious package that might have contained live ammunition rounds. With his quick thinking and sense of awareness, he immediately requested the building to be locked down, then promptly notified the Chief Duty Officer, Master-at-Arms and the 502nd Security Forces regarding the ongoing situation.

With his uncanny familiarity with the premises, he assisted in the search for the student throughout the building. While the initial search was unsuccessful, he used everything at his disposal to locate the suspect by expeditiously scrubbing the Personnel Accountability System-Common Access Card (PASCAC) to track down all personnel who entered the building.

After searching through the database with the help of another sailor, he narrowed down the list of students who might be potential suspects. With the help of the Master-at-Arms, they were able to locate the room and find the suspect. Upon discovery, the suspect, along with his roommate, were found building an assault rifle. The package contained live shell casings along with the other parts of the assault rifle. The student was apprehended and turned over to the 502nd Security Forces

Royston’s unwavering dedication and personal commitment to safety proved to be instrumental in preventing a crisis and ensuring the safety and security of 2,200 resident students.

Machinist Mate 2nd Class Royston N. Pitt is originally from Brooklyn, New York, and is currently stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Boatswain Mate 2nd Class Joshua Marzilli | USO Coast Guardsman of the Year 2024

At 11 p.m. on August 8, 2023, the second four-member Station Maui Response Boat-Medium (RBM) crew launched in response to the Lahaina wildfire.

Boatswain Mate 2nd Class Joshua Marzilli | USO Coast Guardsman of the Year 2024 | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

Boatswain Mate 2nd Class Joshua Marzilli was the Coxswain in Charge, responding to reports of up to 100 people who had jumped into the water to escape the fires. On-scene weather was hazardous, including over 30 mph winds, two-to-three-foot sea levels and less than 10 feet of visibility along the shoreline – all while the fires continued to rage.

Arriving at midnight, Joshua’s crew arrived to find the town and shoreline engulfed in two-story high flames, smoke and floating debris. Joshua and his crew’s task was to locate people who had entered the water to escape the flames.

Joshua directed his crew to search from outside the reef line, utilizing searchlights, a loudhailer and a crew member on the bow to scan for debris. Eventually they spotted flashing lights and waving arms, determining that the individuals were possibly on land. Joshua volunteered to enter the water, coordinating a plan to tend a tether line while keeping the boat out of shallow water. Displaying unwavering courage and stamina, Joshua swam toward shore. After the first unsuccessful attempt, he signaled to be hauled back to the RBM.

During this time, a nearby commercial vessel deployed their inflatable boat with an off-duty lifeguard to assist the Coast Guard with two surfboards and fins. Joshua and the lifeguard utilized the boat to get close to the reef and then paddled 200 yards on their surfboards with life jackets attached to them for survivors. Fighting through the precarious current and excess winds, they reached the shore and rescued two children, whom they paddled back through the breaking surf to the skiff outside the reef line. When the transfer was complete, Joshua turned toward danger again and swam to shore to help more survivors.

Once ashore, the Maui Fire Department (MFD) had just arrived and requested Joshua’s assistance in evacuating survivors to their truck. The road was blocked by debris and MFD needed help carrying three survivors who could not walk a quarter mile to the truck, where they could be evacuated to safety. After carrying them through debris, Joshua was retrieved by a partner agency jet ski, along with an additional survivor found in the water, and returned to the RBM.

Joshua then led the RBM to search Lahaina Harbor for additional survivors. Using the boat’s loudspeaker, they communicated their presence and willingness to assist, and subsequently rescued two more individuals from the shoreline. Joshua’s heroic actions reflect the United States Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty, while embodying true selflessness in the face of danger.

Boatswain Mate 2nd Class Joshua Marzilli is originally from Tampa, Florida, and is currently stationed at Wailuku, Hawaii.

All of these service members embody the values of our nation’s Armed Forces, and we are proud to call them the 2024 USO Service Members of the Year.

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