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Minnesota National Guard
USO honors military heroes at gala

2015 USO Gala WASHINGTON DC - They took quick action to save the lives of others, whether on the battlefield or in a civilian neighborhood And as a result of these and other individual actions, seven service members were honored as USO service members of the year at the 2015 USO Gala

The service members were chosen by their branches of service

"It's this kind of bravery in our young men and women of the National Guard and all of our services I wish every American could see it," said National Guard Bureau Chief Gen Frank Grass at the gala, attended by about 1,000 people

USO also honored two volunteers, including an 18-year-old airman who spent hundreds of hours pitching in wherever needed at the Guam USO before he left for basic training on Aug 5

The experience of Airman 1st Class Eric Chun also highlights the relationships between the military and USO volunteers and staff at locations around the world Chun began volunteering at the USO when he was 15, helping clean and organize, and cheerfully pitching in to do whatever was needed, staff members said But he also spent a lot of time talking to the military and family members who came into the Guam USO

"That's what convinced me to join the military," Chun said "Before, when I heard the word 'military,' I thought of just 'military' I learned there are a lot of branches and a lot of jobs"

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen Paul Selva said he still remembers the kit with the $10 AT&T phone card that someone from the USO placed in his hooch in Saudi Arabia early in his career He still carries it with him, he said

USO volunteers touch thousands of lives every day through a variety of programs around the world

"Thank you for standing by our side and taking care of us and our families when it's most important," Selva said "When we need a little touch of home, we know you'll always be by our side"

National Guard Sgt Aaron Burdash's sister, Katie, who attended the gala, called her brother "incredibly humble"

"To him, it doesn't seem heroic," she said "As we learn more information about what's happened, we, as a family, are proud of what he's done and what he represents"

Burdash, a medic, serves with the 204th Area Support Medical Company, 347th Regional Support Group, with the Minnesota National Guard On May 24, while deployed to Sinai, Egypt, he provided critical care to a host-nation soldier who suffered a gunshot wound to his chest A few weeks later, he again delivered lifesaving medical care to a host-nation soldier, providing immediate care after the soldier suffered a gunshot wound to the face He stayed by the soldier's side until he was stable enough to be transported

Burdash said he was surprised when his leaders said they were submitting his name for the award as USO National Guardsman of the Year

"I felt I was doing my job and it didn't warrant recognition," he said "I'm very humbled"

Navy ABH2 Jessica A Jusino, assigned to the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, was on a lunch break with another sailor when they both noticed black smoke coming from a home in Newport News, Va, on July 1, 2014 They asked bystanders if anyone was in the house and were told that a disabled elderly woman might be there

"Instinct kicked in" for both of them, she said The other sailor, ABH2 Devon Bishop, broke down the door, and they found the woman inside and escorted her to safety

"Then we went about our day," she said

"I wish Bishop could be here as well," she said, anxious to give him credit and noting that he had moved to another duty station "It wasn't just me"

Other recipients are:

USO Soldier of the Year: Spc Christian T Sheers, Beast Troop, 1st Squadron, 33rd Calvary Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky On April 8, Sheers, a medic, was conducting security force operations in support of a US diplomat's visit to Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province As they were preparing to leave, an Afghan National Defense Security Force member opened fire on the party with a mounted heavy machine gun Sheers engaged and eliminated the threat, then dragged a wounded soldier to cover He provided lifesaving treatment to one soldier, limb-saving treatment to two others, and first aid to five others

USO Marine of the Year: Staff Sgt Joseph P Bednarik, Company E, 2nd Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif Bednarik is a senior drill instructor Before that, he served three combat deployments: one in Iraq in 2005, and two in Afghanistan (in 2009 and 2011, respectively) During his first deployment, his vehicle was hit by an IED Though badly wounded, he dragged another severely injured Marine from the vehicle, triaged his injuries and performed CPR while engaging the enemy Bednarik suffered shrapnel wounds to a leg, damaged ear drums, a broken collarbone and torn shoulder Aside from his current demanding job of molding recruits into Marines, he's logged more than 120 hours as a volunteer coach for youth soccer and T-ball teams on base He volunteers at his children's school and is a pack parent for his daughter's Girl Scout troop

USO Airman of the Year: Senior Airman TJ Brantley, explosive ordnance disposal journeyman, 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, La During a May 21, 2014, mission in the mountains of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Brantley helped save a wounded Army officer while providing combat casualty care under fire He suffered a severe concussion after a 20-pound IED detonated within 3 meters of him, but he carried the wounded soldier to another location and helped the medic with additional first aid care During the eight-hour engagement, he used his own body to shield his wounded teammate from enemy fire and close-air support strikes Brantley also volunteers in his community, supporting the Special Olympics, the EOD Warrior Foundation and an after-school program for military children Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein noted that Brantley suffers from headaches 24 hours a day but refuses to take painkillers because he doesn't want to jeopardize his Air Force career

USO Coast Guardsman of the Year: Petty Officer 1st Class Angel Leott, Maritime Safety and Security Team Boston While supporting a US Africa Command mission, she helped troubleshoot and repair several Nigerian vessels and provided oversight of an outboard-motor maintenance course This resulted in more than 70 hours of training for 18 members of the Nigerian special boat service and well-maintained vessels that allowed the country to conduct maritime operations

USO officials also recognized Richard Anderson as stateside Volunteer of the Year for his work at the USO Las Vegas

In addition to the military officials, several celebrities participated in the gala: Master of Ceremonies Robert Patrick, star of CBS' "Scorpion," recording artist Michael W Smith and chef Robert Irvine, who designed the dinner menu

All the celebrities have visited troops on tours with the USO

Irvine said one thing he's learned on USO tours is that, while he can cook, at age 50, he shouldn't work out with 20-year-old Marines

October 21, 2015
Karen Jowers, Army Times

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