First Lady, Military Leaders Praise USO for Troop Support

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2007 - First lady Laura Bush joined military leaders and other luminaries here last night in praising the United Service Organizations for its support for the military as she accepted the 2007 USO of Metropolitan Washington Service Award.

The first lady joined Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson and the top brass from the military services at the USO of Metropolitan Washington's 25th annual awards dinner. The star-studded gala, which featured Miss America 2007 Lauren Nelson, longtime USO star Connie Stevens, country music stars Michael Peterson and Trace Adkins, and American tenor Daniel Rodriguez, raised $500,000 for USO-Metro programs, officials announced.

"Americans have a responsibility to support our troops, and certainly, no one does it better than the USO," Bush told some 650 attendees at the dinner in Arlington, Va.'s Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

"For 66 years, the USO has lifted the spirits of our troops," she said, recalling the organization's long history of bringing entertainers from Bob Hope and Rita Hayworth to Marilyn Monroe and Ann-Margret to combat zones.

Pace joined the first lady in praising the USO for its long history of supporting U.S. troops around the world. He and Nicholson shared memories of what the USO offered them personally during their military careers, particularly when they served in Vietnam.

The chairman told the audience he remembered what it meant to him, while deployed during the Christmas of 1972, to have Bob Hope and Connie Stevens visit him and his fellow Marines during a USO tour. "It was incredible, a little bit of home," he said.

Addressing Stevens, Pace added with a laugh, "You made a young captain's heart beat pretty hard."

That support for the troops continues today, with the USO providing troops around the world a cup of coffee and someone to talk to when they feel far from home, Pace said. "In so many ways, the USO has taken great care of all of us in uniform, and we are grateful for that," he said.

Bush said the USO's support is more important than ever as an all-volunteer military fights the war on terror. She noted USO-Metro's huge outreach to more than half a million servicemembers and their families, with support ranging from troop-appreciation events to job fairs for military spouses to free phone cards "so that the reassuring voices of loved ones can reach our troops deployed overseas."

Last year alone, USO-Metro volunteers gave 60,000 hours of service. "In every capacity, they've gone above and beyond for our troops," the first lady said.

She described one particular incident in which a Marine returning home from Iraq on emergency leave after learning that his mother had died found himself stranded at the USO lounge in Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "After 42 hours of travel, the Marine arrived at BWI with no tickets or money and too late at night to make travel plans," Bush said.

A quick-thinking USO volunteer wasn't going to let those circumstances stop the Marine from getting home in time for his mother's funeral, Bush said. The volunteer got on the phone and arranged for Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey state troopers to drive the Marine home. "Thanks to these police officers -- and to a resourceful USO volunteer -- the Marine arrived in time to comfort his family, and pay his respects to his mother," she said.

Bush recognized the USO's extensive work visiting wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., arranging for them to attend sporting events and concerts and bringing celebrity entertainers to cheer them. Even more importantly, she said, the group provides free housing for visiting families to ensure "no soldier has to face the recovery process without their moms and dads, sons and daughters, wives or husbands by their side."

The USO also provides critical emotional support, the first lady said. She noted an exceptional incident in which the USO arranged for Joe Grady, a Marine who lost his arm to a roadside bomb in Fallujah, Iraq, and his wife, Ashley, who he married while hospitalized, take a honeymoon to the Mexican Rivera. "Throughout Joe's recovery, Ashley recalls the kindness and the support of USO volunteers and staff was overwhelming," Bush said.

"Our armed forces are filled with courageous young people like Joe Grady. They're supported by loving parents, children and spouses like Ashley," she said. "By supporting organizations like the USO, the American people can show their gratitude to these troops and families, who sacrifice so much to keep us safe."

Pace said a common question he and other military leaders get when they visit deployed troops is if the American people are still behind them. "And I always, with great pride, smile and say, 'Your USO is the prime example of how the American people support you.'

"That support is a real, tangible part of saying, 'Yes, the American people are behind us. They are there to help support our servicemembers and their families. ... They have always been there for us, (and they) make a huge impact on our troops."

"The most important thing we can do as Americans is to make sure they know how much they are appreciated for their service and their sacrifice," Nicholson agreed. "That goes the same for those who reach out and support them, ... and the USO does that because it gives a lot of Americans a chance to say thank you."

Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called last night's gala a way to recognize the USO's service to the military.

"The USO is important because it recognizes all the wonderful armed services personnel and what they contribute to the country," he said. "It's a great organization."

During the gala, USO and military officials honored several servicemembers and longtime USO supporters.

Air Force Master Sgt. David Glinski II, who serves with the White House Communications Agency, received the 2007 C. Haskell Small Award and a $1,000 Savings Bond for volunteerism as a firefighter with the Dumfries-Triangle Volunteer Fire Department, in Prince William County, Va.

"It's a humbling experience," Glinski said of last night's recognition. "Volunteering isn't something I do for recognition. It comes from the heart. It's an honor to serve my country and my community."

Pace presented a Bronze Star with "V" device for valor to Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Bryant, a special agent for the Office of Special Investigations who helped capture 200 insurgents near Kirkuk, Iraq, and protected coalition forces during a terrorist attack on a convoy traveling near Kirkuk Air Base.

Bryant said it felt "a little overwhelming" to be honored so publicly by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and downplayed his personal role in the actions he was honored for. "I really, truly owe this to my team's actions and our training," he said. "When you're in a situation like that, your training takes over. It's an instinct. And we reacted as a team, just like we are supposed to do."

Pace, Giambastiani and Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, Pace's senior enlisted advisor, offered special honors to several servicemembers at last night's event:

-- Retired Army Col. Jack Hyde, who served in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II and stopped Gen. George Patton from going through a roadblock, saving his life;

-- Air Force Sgt. Eric Ezell, who lost an eye in Iraq while serving with the 20th Special Operations Squadron but will remain on active duty after his discharge next week from Walter Reed;

-- Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Patrick Hyde, who was hit by an improvised explosive device while assigned to Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, but ignored his injuries to help save his comrades;

-- Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Ruth, who braved eight- to 10-foot seas and 30 knot winds to save a woman being battered at the base of a rocky cliff during a thunderstorm from drowning;

-- Army Sgt. David John Brown, who served as a USO volunteer while recovering at Walter Reed from injuries received from a roadside bomb near an Iraqi police station; and

-- Marine Cpl. Dylan Gray, who lost both legs to an IED attack during his third tour in Iraq and completed his final surgery at the National Naval Medical Center earlier this week before being transferred to Walter Reed for rehabilitation.

Pace also recognized the troops' families, who accompanied them to the gala. "These are the unsung heroes, whose support is so vital," he said.

As the evening drew to a close, Nicholson presented the 2007 USO of Metropolitan Washington Merit Award to country music legend Trace Adkins for his participation in USO tours and ongoing support for U.S. servicemembers.

Adkins said he felt the award was the second time in his career he received recognition he felt he didn't deserve. The first, he said, was when he awarded entry into the Grand Ole Opry.

He acknowledges that he sometimes gets tired of hearing people say they support the troops simply because it's the popular thing to say, but without any real conviction. "I support the troops, ... I support what they do," he said, rousing the group to a standing ovation. I support their mission."

[Web Version:]