USO Tour Veteran Kellie Pickler Shares Why She’s Excited to Perform at the 2014 Gala

Seven-time USO tour veteran and recording artist Kellie Pickler took a break from her pre-Gala preparations to share why she is excited to perform at the 2014 USO Gala tonight.

“I’m honored to be here tonight and be a part of honoring our service men and women. It’s going to be a great night,” Pickler said.

The award-winning country music artist, who first gained fame as an “American Idol” contestant, has entertained more than 33,000 troops and military families while touring with the USO.

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. 

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

Justin Timberlake Hangs Out with USO Honorees at ‘Runner Runner’ Premiere

From left, USO Coast Guardsman of the Year Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel A. Peikert, USO Airman of the Year Staff Sergeant Christopher D. Broyles, USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew "Chris" Munden and USO Marine of the Year Sergeant Andrew C. Seif pose for a photo with their significant others and Justin Timberlake (center) on Wednesday at the "Runner, Runner" premiere at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Denise Truscello/WireImage

From left, USO Coast Guardsman of the Year Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel A. Peikert, USO Airman of the Year Staff Sergeant Christopher D. Broyles, USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew “Chris” Munden and USO Marine of the Year Sergeant Andrew C. Seif pose for a photo with their significant others and Justin Timberlake (center) on Wednesday at the “Runner, Runner” premiere at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Denise Truscello/WireImage

It’s going to be a hard anniversary to top.

Four USO service members of the year joined Justin Timberlake on the red carpet for the premiere of his new movie “Runner, Runner” on Wednesday night at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. USO supporter 20th Century Fox provided the Hollywood experience for the military couples.

The night had extra meaning for USO Marine of the Year Sgt. Andrew Seif and his wife, Dawn, who were celebrating their third wedding anniversary.

The four service members who attended the premiere – Seif, USO Coast Guardsman of the Year Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel A. Peikert, USO Airman of the Year Staff Sergeant Christopher D. Broyles and USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew “Chris” Munden – will be honored at the USO Gala on Oct. 25 in Washington along with USO Soldier of the Year Sgt. Craig Warfle and USO National Guardsman of the Year Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Petersen.

P&G Gives Makeovers to Military Honorees Before USO Gala

Image

Jessica Perkins, wife of USO Soldier of the Year Staff Sgt. Jacob Perkins, gets her hair done at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon at the Washington Hilton before Friday’s USO Gala. USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

Every year, the USO selects a service member from each branch and a military volunteer to honor at its gala in Washington, D.C. — a star-studded event with more than 1,000 attendees, including the nation’s top military brass.

With a roomful of guests to impress, they — and their families — needed to look good. That’s where the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon stepped in to help.

Image

Marianne Gaylor, wife of USO Sailor of the Year Greg Gaylor, gets her hair done Friday at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon.

One of the perks of having great partners like P&G is that they bring their own party supplies. Cover Girl cosmetics, Gillette razors and a whole line of hair and beauty products filled a private space just steps from the Washington Hilton’s ballroom on Friday afternoon. P&G-provided stylists spent the afternoon making the USO’s honorees — and a few other special military invitees — look sharp for the big event.

“I’ve never been shaved before,” said Army Master Sgt. Mike Martinez (Ret.). “That said, it was the best shave I’ve ever had. It’s nice to see P&G and the USO coming through for us, to help my wife and I get prepared for this.”

Five fully stocked stations for hair, make-up and shaving were in action for six hours on Friday to help spouses and family members feel comfortable and confident for their big night. More than 15 makeovers were performed by the end of the day.

—By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Image

USO Airman of the Year Staff Sgt. Christopher Beversdorf gets a shave before Friday’s USO Gala at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon.

USO Europe Service Salute

The USO hosted their 19th Annual USO Europe Service Salute this month on Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Twelve outstanding junior enlisted military personnel, representing the U.S. and German armed forces, were recognized for their outstanding military and community achievements. Senior American and German military, diplomatic, political and corporate leaders were present at the event to salute to the “best of the best.”

The USO Europe Honorees. Photo by Jamie Goloyugo

The USO Europe Service Salute also celebrates and reinforces the strong partnership between the armed forces of the United States and Germany. Herr Professor Dr. Hans-Jürgen Seimetz represented the event’s German patron, Rheinland Pfalz Minister President Kurt Beck. The event’s U.S. patron, Ambassador to Germany Philip D. Murphy, was represented by Frankfurt Consul General Edward A. Alford. General Mark Welsh, Commander Africa Command and Generalleutnant Rainer Korff, Kommandierender General Multinationales Korps Nord-Ost were also participants in the awards ceremony.

The EUCOM Color Guard. Photo by Jamie Goloyugo

The evening featured a reception followed by dinner and culminated in a formal awards presentation to recognize the twelve distinguished honorees. The U.S. Air Force’s Tops In Blue provided entertainment.

The 19th Annual USO Europe Service Salute was made possible through the generous sponsorship of numerous U.S. and German companies. Platinum Sponsors include: TKS Telepost Kabel-Service Kaiserslautern GmbH & Co. KG, United Airlines and the Wounded Warrior Project. Diamond Sponsors include Deutsche Lufthansa AG, P&A GmbH, P & G and Stars & Stripes.

USO | P&G Beauty and Grooming Lounge

P&G provided all the hair and beauty products used for the makeovers

When you find out the military man in your life is being honored by the USO at their annual gala, you’re certainly thrilled and proud. But hobnobbing with Washingtonian politicos and top military officials in a glittering ballroom can be a daunting idea for the average woman! Guest Lori Johnson said, “I’ve been to a couple military formals, but nothing on this scale. It’s a little overwhelming… but exciting!” Luckily the USO and P&G were there to help make things as fun and relaxing as possible!

USO Soldier of the Year Corporal Bixler gets his head shaved

The day of the event, the spouses, mothers, and the honorees themselves were invited to the P&G Beauty and Grooming Lounge for some well-deserved pampering! There were five fully stocked stations for hair, make-up and shaving to take advantage of to help the families feel as confident as possible for their big night. “I’m ready for my transformation!” exclaimed military mom Marilyn Torrens.

Jill's hair was made perfect for her husband's special night

More than fifteen makeovers wear done by the end of the day, with all the families ready to celebrate and enjoy the upcoming festivities. Read all about the event at USO.orgVyque Elessar, USO Director of New Media

This slideshow requires JavaScript.