And the 2013 USO Gala Service Member Honorees Are …

From left, USO Coast Guardsman of the Year Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel Peikert, USO Volunteer of the Year Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, USO National Guardsman of the year Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen, USO Marine of the Year Sgt. Andrew Seif, USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Munden and USO Soldier of the Year Sgt. Craig Warfle. (Not pictured: USO Airman of the Year Sgt. Christopher Broyles.) USO photo by Mike Theiler

From left, USO Coast Guardsman of the Year Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel Peikert, USO Volunteer of the Year Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, USO National Guardsman of the year Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen, USO Marine of the Year Sgt. Andrew Seif, USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Munden and USO Soldier of the Year Sgt. Craig Warfle. (Not pictured: USO Airman of the Year Sgt. Christopher Broyles.) USO photo by Mike Theiler

To get you familiar with the service members who’ll be honored at Friday’s 2013 USO Gala, here’s a look at their achievements:

Volunteer of the Year
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson
USO Camp Hansen and USO Camp Schwab Okinawa, Japan

Before then-Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson boarded his first combat deployment flight to Iraq in 2004, a USO volunteer made him a promise. She said she’d pray for him daily, and that when he returned she’d be the first person to give him a hug. Eight months later, she was right where she promised. “It takes a special someone to do that,” Johnson said, “and it was then and there that I decided that I wanted to be a part of it.” Johnson was a relentless force at the USOs on both Camp Hansen and Camp Schwab, averaging 223 volunteer hours per month during his recent Pacific deployment.
Now a gunnery sergeant, Johnson created Hansen’s Midnight Munchies program to help troops stay out of trouble on Saturday nights. He became a frequent barbecue pit master during USO events, and completed several center improvement projects. Perhaps best of all, he breathed new life into the Camp Hansen center by constantly recruiting new volunteers. For all these efforts, we are proud to honor Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson as the 2013 USO Volunteer of the Year. 

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USO Soldier of the Year
Sgt. Craig D. Warfle
2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
Fort Lewis, Wash.

Sergeant Craig D. Warfle distinguished himself during a helicopter raid against a high-value target in Afghanistan on September 20, 2012. Then a specialist on the Joint Special Operations Strike Force, Warfle’s team came under fire from multiple enemy positions immediately after exiting their helicopter in an open field. Warfle crawled 15 meters through the muddy field and began suppressing enemy fire, giving members of his team time to find a way to assault enemy positions. Warfle and his squad leader were both eventually hit by machine gun fire as they continued to move toward the entrenched enemy. Despite being hit in the right shoulder, Warfle continued to lay down suppressive fire, protecting his squad leader — who’d been hit multiple times — until medics could reach them. After eventually applying a tourniquet to his own through-and-through shoulder wound, Warfle continued to lay down fire for another 20 minutes, allowing his teammates to move across the open field. His actions allowed the assault force to drop ordnance and successfully get to the exfiltration helicopter landing zone. For these selfless actions Warfle received the Distinguished Service Cross.

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USO Marine of the Year
Sgt. Andrew C. Seif
2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion
Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command Camp Lejeune, N.C.

As a critical skills operator (CSO) of a Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) unit, Sergeant Andrew C. Seif is described by his commanding officer as a Marine with “tenacity, vigor and common sense that he applies to every task or endeavor he undertakes.” Seif served as senior engineer CSO and mayor of his forward operating base during a recent deployment to Afghanistan. Seif led operations to destroy cave complexes and fighting positions used by the enemy while also volunteering to conduct mobile mine sweeping on foot and overseeing construction and repair of bridges and roads that benefited both Marines and Afghan civilians. But one particular event drew special commendation. Seif and a teammate were maneuvering in a two-man element during an operation to detain a high-value target on July 24, 2012. Seif’s teammate was shot several times as they approached the compound. Electing not to wait for reinforcements, Seif entered the compound alone and eliminated the threat. After clearing the compound, Seif returned to treat his teammate’s wounds despite exposing himself to constant enemy fire. For this heroic action, Seif has been recommended for the Silver Star.

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USO Sailor of the Year
Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew C. Munden
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three Naval Amphibious Base Coronado
San Diego, Calif. 

Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew C. Munden distinguished himself by operating at the front of more than 140 combat patrols and clearance operations while deployed to Afghanistan as a member of EOD Mobile Unit Three and Navy SEAL Team 5. Munden was among a select few EOD technicians assigned to provide direct support to Navy SEAL teams in Afghanistan. On October 6, 2012, Munden’s team left a key leader engagement to find the Taliban had shut down the road connecting the town they were visiting from the district center. Munden proceeded to lead a sweep of the road, where he located two pressure-plate IEDs and cleared them without the protection of a bomb suit or robotic devices. Those were two of the 14 IEDs he cleared without a bomb suit or a robot during his deployment. While deployed, he also trained and qualified 42 Afghan Local Police officers for duty as mine- clearance engineers. He was credited with displaying outstanding situational awareness and keen attention to detail throughout that deployment, undoubtedly leading to the survival of his teammates and the local population.

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USO Airman of the Year
Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Broyles
140th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight
Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado

Staff Sergeant Christopher D. Broyles distinguished himself while conducting counter improvised explosive device operations in Afghanistan. Broyles and his platoon were engaged by approximately 40 insurgents over three days. While encountering both small arms and rocket fire, Broyles helped clear four vehicles that were struck by improvised explosive devices. He provided life-saving aid and assisted in the evacuation of six wounded troops, including extracting two critically wounded Marines from their destroyed vehicle. Broyles did all this while laying down accurate, deadly fire against the enemy. Broyles has received awards including the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

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USO Coast Guardsman of the Year
Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel A. Peikert
Tactical Law Enforcement Team South
Opa Locka, Florida

Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel Peikert demonstrated bravery and great acts of heroism when he saved the lives of a father and son on the San Marcos River in Texas on July 14, 2012. Peikert was off duty when he saw a father and son get swept over a 20-foot dam, strike a concrete ledge and then get pulled down the swiftly moving river. Without concern for his safety, Peikert ran downstream, dove into the river and swam for 50 yards through rough rapids until he reached the duo. The father was temporarily blinded and disoriented from a blow to the head and he struggled to keep his son afloat as he tried to swim upstream against five knots of current. As the rapids grew stronger, Peikert reached the father and helped calm him. With the help of his brother, Peikert pulled the duo across the river to safety. Once on the shore, he administered first aid to the father’s head wound and the son’s mangled leg. Peikert then carried the father and son to a vehicle that took them to the hospital. Peikert’s initiative and dedication to duty demonstrate the highest traditions of the Coast Guard.

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USO National Guardsman of the Year
Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Petersen
103rd Rescue Squadron, New York Air National Guard
Westhampton Beach, New York

Staff Sergeant Christopher D. Petersen distinguished himself while serving in Afghanistan when he pulled off the high-risk casualty evacuation of four coalition soldiers severely wounded in an enemy ambush. Petersen took small arms fire from an enemy position only 60 meters away as he stepped off a helicopter. Without hesitation, Petersen maneuvered across 50 meters of open terrain to reach the wounded soldiers. He assessed and treated multiple patients, undeterred by his exposure to the continuing enemy barrage. His determination was crucial for the successful evacuation of all four critically wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Peterson, a 2007 Notre Dame graduate, worked briefly as an analyst at Ernst and Young in New York City before leaving the financial sector in 2008 to attend pararescue school, where he graduated at the top of his class. He was also recently named Airman of the Year by the New York Air National Guard.