USO Honors Military Supporters, Service Members of the Year During 41st Annual Awards Dinner
The USO was honored to host government and military leaders, members of Congress, as well as business and community leaders during the 41st Annual Awards Dinner, at The Anthem, a premier music venue and auditorium in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood of Washington, D.C., March 23, 2023.
USO supporters gathered in support of America’s service members and their families. The special evening raised support for the USO’s mission of strengthening America’s service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country throughout their service to the nation, and called on guests to re-affirm their commitment to our nation’s men and women in uniform.
Lisa Marie Riggins, Regional President USO Southeast Region, provided the opening remarks, welcoming all distinguished guests and award recipients to the joyous occasion.
“Thank you so much for joining us tonight and for being a part of our 41st Annual Awards Dinner,” said Riggins. “On behalf of the entire USO, we’d like to thank the companies and board members who said ‘yes,’ to our mission and made this evening possible.”
Riggins was joined by actor, comedian, host of the ‘The Price is Right,’ and Marine Corps veteran Drew Carey, who joined in the celebration as the co-emcee for the evening. Carey brought light-hearted fun and humor to the evening.
“It’s an incredible honor for me to be here with all of you tonight,” said Carey. “Once a Marine, always a Marine – It’s a privilege to thank the men and women and families who tirelessly secure our nation’s freedoms.”
The presenting sponsor of the event – Boeing, was represented by President and CEO of Boeing Defense, Ted Colbert, who reflected on the partnership Boeing shares with the USO in supporting service members and their families across the globe.
“It is such an honor to be here with you this evening celebrating the tremendous global impact of the USO … and the thousands of men and women in uniform who serve our country,” said Colbert. “Joining the military goes beyond having a job or even a career path … it’s a calling.”
“At Boeing, we also know the support our service members need doesn’t stop at the strategic capabilities needed to win in theatre. Support also means keeping them connected and engaged with their lives at home and with their loved ones – wherever they may be,” added Colbert. “That is why we are honored to partner with the USO and champion its critically important mission.”
A highlight of the evening’s event was recognizing and awarding of the Service Members of the Year from all seven branches of the armed forces.
Each year, honorees from the different 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. Throughout the evening, each U.S. Service Chief or representative, called their respective branches Service Member of the Year on stage to personally recognize their heroic and selfless actions.
This years’ Service Members of the Year awardees recognized during the ceremony were:
- Sergeant Erick Ceja | USO Soldier of the Year
- Staff Sergeant Blake M. Metscher | USO Airman of the Year
- Maritime Enforcement Specialist Second Class Jacob Flores | USO Coast Guardsman of the Year
- Corporal Alec T. Cruz | USO Marine of the Year
- Cryptologic Petty Officer Third Class Ty Knight | USO Sailor of the Year
- Specialist Solomon Doss | USO National Guardsman of the Year
- Specialist Solomon Doss | USO National Guardsman of the Year
In addition to honoring the Service Members of the Year, the USO honored all Vietnam veterans and family members of those who served in the Vietnam War in attendance, as part of a special segment: “50th Anniversary of the End of the Vietnam War.”
“On March 29, 1973 – almost exactly 50 years ago – the last remaining American combat troops pulled out of Vietnam, ending direct U.S. military involvement in the war,” said J.D. Crouch, CEO & President of the USO.
“This evening, five decades after their heroic actions in Vietnam, I have the honor to introduce you to three American patriots who gave to their fellow troops, to the future generations of service members who would follow in their footsteps, and to our country,” said Crouch.
Vietnam veteran Navy Commander Everett Alvarez, Jr., a POW of the Vietnam War and the second-longest held POW in American history was the first to be recognized and honored during the ceremony. He served as a naval aviator in the war whose aircraft was shot down on Aug. 5, 1964.
He was captured and taken to Hanoi. He later wrote about traveling in the back of a truck on the way to the infamous prison camp. “If I knew my stay would last 8.5 years, I would have thought that impossible… If someone told me my fellow POWs and I would be subjected to unbelievable indignities, deprivation and torture, there is no telling what I would have thought,” wrote Alvarez.
Rocky Bleier, a pro-football player who was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam after his rookie season with the Steelers was also honored during the ceremony.
On Aug. 20, 1969, while on patrol with his platoon in Hiep Duc, Rocky was shot in the left thigh by an enemy rifle bullet. During the ambush, an enemy grenade exploded, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg. His right foot was also severely damaged in the blast.
While recovering in a hospital in Tokyo, doctors told him that he could not play football again.
After several surgeries, he was discharged from the Army and began workouts with his Steelers teammates. Rocky played in the first four Steelers Super Bowl victories, and caught the touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw that gave Pittsburgh a lead it would never relinquish in Super Bowl XIII.
The 36th Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and Chairman of the USO Board of Governors Gen. George William Casey, Jr., USA (Ret.), represented his father, Maj. Gen. George Casey, Sr., who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.
Maj. Gen. George Casey, Sr., lived out the code of duty, honor, and country. He was killed on July 7, 1970, when his command helicopter crashed while flying to Cam Ranh to visit wounded troops.
“Tonight’s recognition of these individuals is a time to honor all who served in Vietnam,” said Crouch. “We owe you and your family a debt that can never fully be repaid.”
Following the “50th Anniversary of the End of the Vietnam War,” tribute, the CEO of Google Public Sector and Navy veteran Karen Dahut shared her remarks.
“On behalf of Google Public Sector, thank you to all the troops and veterans in the room and abroad for your service and support of the mission. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and to make it universally accessible,” said Dahut. “As a Navy veteran, I understand that without courage and sacrifice of those who serve our country, the democratic values that we all care so much about would not be protected.”
The non-military award of the evening – presented by Lisa Marie Riggins and Drew Carey – went to Washington Commanders Head Football Coach and long-time supporter of the USO – Coach Ron Rivera who received the USO Achievement Award. The award is presented to a well-respected public figure who has demonstrated a deep commitment to our nation’s military members while continuing to use their platform to spread awareness, serve others and embody the mission of the USO.
“I grew up in a military household being the son of an army officer and I know firsthand the sacrifices that military families must make,” said Rivera. “I have always tried to use my platform to raise awareness for the great men and women of our military who sacrifice it all for our freedom. They are the true heroes of our country. Not only do those brave men and women need to be appreciated but also the families.”
“It has been an honor to be able to work with the USO over the years helping to raise awareness and funds for all of their phenomenal programs,” said Rivera.
Included in the evenings program was a live performance by Grammy nominated and multi-Country Music Awards winning duo, and patriotic USO supporters – Thompson Square.
The evening concluded with another live performance by the U.S. Army Chorus, and celebrated recording artist, Grammy award winner and USO champion of 35 years – Lee Greenwood who performed one of America’s most recognizable patriotic songs “God Bless the U.S.A.”
SPONSORS & SPECIAL THANKS
Presenting Sponsor: Boeing
Diamond Sponsor: Google Cloud
Gold Sponsors: Bell Textron Inc., Lowe’s, Raytheon Technologies
Silver Sponsors: Amazon Web Services, Giant Food, LMI, ServiceNow Bronze: CISCO, Consumer Technology Association
Patriot Sponsors: General Dynamics Information Technology, Leidos, Lumen, Maximus Meritalk, Mister Bee Potato Chips, Northrop Grumman, T-Mobile
Freedom Sponsors: BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cooley, Curt Kolcun, Events DC, Formular Strategy Group, Guidehouse, Harkins Builders, NVE, Oceus, Planet Technologies, Prudential, Rancher Government Solutions, Washington Commanders, World Wide Technologies, WWE
More from USO
USO Celebrates Month of the Military Child
Although they don’t wear a uniform, military children still serve in their own way. We often forget the challenges they face. Frequent move…
USO Garden Works Leads Recovery through Nature
If you or someone you know is seeking assistance for substance use, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988, then press 1, or access online…
Military Chefs Flex Culinary Mettle at USO Chef's Table Dinner
It was a dining experience like no other as top military chefs from across the Armed Forces created a five-Star, five-course meal for milit…