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Service Member Honorees Take Center Stage at USO Gala

Friday, November 02, 2012

By Eric Brandner 

Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Beversdorf’s mom was happy. She said she’d been telling everyone–in that way proud moms do when they know their sons have done something truly outstanding–about the family’s trip to Washington this week.

Beversdorf could only shrug and smile.

This year’s USO Gala honorees are a modest bunch. But their actions have been remarkable.

They’ll get the ovations they deserve for their exemplary acts on Friday night in Washington, D.C., during the 2012 USO Gala.

Roughly 1,000 guests–including elected officials and military leaders—will celebrate the achievements of the six USO Service Members of the Year along with USO Volunteer of the Year, Army Sgt. Richard Schuh and Spirit of the USO award recipients Navy Adm. Mike Mullen (Ret.) and his wife, Deborah.

Recording artist Jordin Sparks will be on hand to entertain as guests will be treated to special creations from celebrity chef Jennifer Behm and caricatures from cartoonists Chip Bok, Bruce Higdon and Ed Steckley. Washington, D.C.-based Fox 5 anchor Allison Seymour will be the mistress of ceremonies and members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders will be on hand to make a presentation.

But the real stars of the show are the honorees.

The selected service members and their families and guests started their D.C. visit with private tours of the White House and Capitol. They dined at Washington’s iconic Old Ebbitt Grill before proceeding to an invite-only reception at the National Archives.

“It’s awesome,” Beversdorf said of the experience. “I wasn’t expecting anything quite like this.”

Today, the group will have breakfast at Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld’s residence before visiting Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon. Then it’s back to the Hilton for their big night.

The gala–which also serves as the USO’s largest fundraiser of the year–is chaired by David McIntyre of TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

Here is a look at this year’s honorees:

Spirit of the USO: Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, USN (Ret) and Mrs. Deborah Mullen: Mullen–the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–and his wife, Deborah, are being honored for 40-plus years of advocacy on behalf of America’s troops.
Volunteer of the Year: Army Sgt. Richard Schuh: Schuh put in more than 200 volunteer hours at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan while recovering from battlefield injuries.

Airman of the Year: Staff Sgt. Christopher Beversdorf: Beversdorf crashed aboard a Chinook helicopter while responding as part of a quick reaction force in Afghanistan. But he took control of the situation on the ground, assuming aerial command and control for MEDEVAC, defense, resupply and recovery operations. He was crucial in the extraction of nine wounded troops and the fending off of five enemy attacks.

Soldier of the Year: Staff Sgt. Jacob J. Perkins: Perkins boarded a burning bus in upstate New York to evacuate crash victims. He cared for injured passengers until help came and then drove one family to two different hospitals so they could be with their loved one.

Marine of the Year: Sgt. Clifford M. Wooldridge: As a vehicle commander in Afghanistan, Wooldridge exposed himself to enemy fire and destroyed enemy machine gun positions during one mission. In another, he led a successful attack to thwart an enemy ambush.

National Guardsman of the Year of the year: Senior Airman Evan Stevens: Stevens entered a minefield in Afghanistan to apply casualty care to an injured comrade who’d triggered a blast just moments earlier. He then calmly retraced his steps out of the minefield, transporting the wounded member of his dismounted patrol to safety.

Sailor of the Year: Petty Officer Gregory Gaylor: Gaylor–an explosive ordnance disposal technician in the Navy–was involved in multiple direct-fire engagements in Afghanistan, including one where he exposed himself to the enemy in order to destroy a nearby compound filled with explosives and to help wounded troops to safety.

Coast Guardsman of the Year: Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas Beane: Beane responded quickly when an F/A-18D crashed into a Virginia apartment building earlier this year, knocking on doors to make sure everyone had evacuated and cutting down one of the pilots whose parachute was caught on the building’s roof.

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Photo caption: USO honorees pose for a photo on a balcony at the United States Capitol. (USO photo by Eric Brandner) 

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