ARLINGTON, VA--(Marketwired - October 21, 2016) - Nearly 1,000 USO supporters joined together as a force behind the forces at the historic DAR Constitution Hall on Thursday in honor of America's service members and their families at the USO 75th Anniversary Gala. The evening opened with the national anthem by "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, "God Bless America" by Janine Stange followed by inspiring remarks from the Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden.
"Our country has one sacred obligation -- to equip those we send to war and to care for them and their families during deployments and when they return home," Biden said. "This commitment to our military and their families is something that you, the USO, does better than anyone else."
Gala attendees included the USO Board of Governors, corporate sponsors, senior military officials, honorees and their families. Special guests included members of the 75th Anniversary Honorary Committee including the iconic Ann-Margret along with Trace Adkins, Nigel Barker, Carla Hall, Craig Morgan, Kellie Pickler, Warrick Dunn, Alex Trebek and Miss USA 2016 Deshauna Barber. Together, they collectively represent the talent that donate countless hours to support the USO and entertain American service members around the world. Chef Robert Irvine -- a British Royal Navy veteran and tireless USO supporter -- designed the fall-inspired menu and Ryan Seacrest presided over the evening as master of ceremonies and shared his earnest sentiments about the USO's milestone year.
"For 75 years, the USO has delivered programs and services that connect, support, comfort and inspire America's troops and their families wherever they serve," Seacrest said. "As someone with deep and abiding respect for our service men and women and the sacrifices they and their families make every day on behalf of our country -- it has been a tremendous joy and pleasure to share this evening with you."
Guests were treated to an exclusive preview of USO's 75th anniversary documentary, "USO - For The Troops," made possible by Johnson & Johnson, the Official Healthcare Partner of the USO. Partisan Pictures' filmmaker and producer Peter Schnall was on hand to lend his support and Courtney Billington, an Army veteran and Johnson & Johnson Vice President of Janssen Supply Chain, invited all who attended to watch the full documentary set to air Nov. 7 on PBS.
After a heartfelt tribute to USO celebrity entertainers past and present -- USO CEO and President Dr. J.D. Crouch II took the stage and proudly introduced the USO's new Force Behind the Forces -- a campaign that aims to bridge the military-civilian drift by inviting all Americans to take action in support of service members.
"The American people must remain engaged with their military, and our Force Behind the Forces campaign aims to connect the American people to those they serve," Crouch said. "Today's USO -- your USO -- has been 75 years in the making, and our milestones were achieved because of the network of volunteers, partners, corporate donors and service chiefs who have never wavered in supporting this noble cause."
The Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band delivered a passionate four-song set and spoke about their experiences connecting with service members on USO tours to the war zone.
PenFed Credit Union, Deloitte, LLP and the National Football League served as the Chairman's Circle for the evening, and USO leaders acknowledged the many contributors who have donated to the organization's Force Behind the Forces: A $7.5 Million Challenge Campaign -- an effort supporting the expansion and refurbishment of more than 35 USO centers and programs by the end of 2016. Warrick Dunn, a former NFL player and avid USO supporter, announced the NFL recently contributed $5 million to the USO and that a portion will go to the USO's Challenge Campaign.
"This funding will help serve more than 125,000 service members and military families, which means a better experience for more than 2 million visitors to USO centers each year," Dunn said. "I hope you will stop and think of the men and women in service tonight. Go back to your families and work places and do what you can to express your personal gratitude."
The first award of the evening -- presented by retired Army General George W. Casey, Jr., Chairman of the USO Board of Governors -- went to The Coca-Cola Company, this year's Spirit of the USO Honoree. Coca-Cola has proudly served on the front lines with the USO since World War II, helping provide service members with the kindness, caring, comfort, compassion, encouragement and support they deserve.
"Tonight on behalf of all of my Coca-Cola associates, we thank you for this kind award, and we commit to being part of the team for the next 75 years," said J. Alexander M. Douglas Jr., Executive Vice President and President, Coca-Cola North America.
The Pritzker Military Museum and Library President and CEO Kenneth Clarke paid special tribute to Janice K. Emmert -- a tireless advocate of the USO's mission for decades. Emmert died in July, and the USO renamed its highest volunteer award in her honor. Two honorees, Ron Meier of the Bob Hope USO in Palm Springs, California, and Ralph Nelsen of USO Osan, South Korea, proudly received the award.
Air Force General Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined service chiefs and senior military officials to honor six service members from each service branch. Miss USA 2016 Deshauna Barber -- an Army Reserve officer -- presented each service member with their well-deserved award. Selva ended the evening by acknowledging the community of USO supporters and entertainers who serve as the driving force behind the more than 180 networked USO locations worldwide.
"If you do the numbers, over 35 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, and countless family members have been touched by the USO," Selva said. "Those of us who wear the cloth of the nation or stand behind those who wear the cloth of the nation thank you."
The USO congratulates its awardees and thanks its sponsors for making its milestone year a success. Click here for more information about the 2016 USO Gala and its honorees.
Spirit of the USO Awardee: The Coca-Cola Company
Service Member Honorees:
Soldier of the Year, First Sergeant Melanie D. Scott
Marine of the Year, Sergeant Terryn K. Thompson
Sailor of the Year, Petty Officer 2nd Class Gary Lee Arbuckle, Jr.
Airman of the Year, Staff Sergeant Jonathan R. Bellio
Coast Guardsman of the Year, Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard A. Steidell
National Guardsman of the Year, Staff Sergeant Clinton E. Brown
Volunteer of the Year Honorees:
Stateside, Ron Meier, Bob Hope USO Palm Springs
Overseas, Ralph Nelsen, USO Osan, South Korea
Chairman: Deloitte, LLP; National Football League; PenFed Credit Union
Vice Chairman: Johnson & Johnson; Pritzker Military Museum & Library; USAA
Premier: Chevron; FedEx; Huntington Ingalls Industries; Lockheed Martin Corporation;
Northrop Grumman Corporation; Yokota Foundation
Four Star: Altria; EY; FTD; Proctor & Gamble
Three Star: AT&T; Express Scripts - Federal Pharmacy Services; Jeep; NewDay USA; The Coca-Cola Company;
UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans; WLA Inc.
About the USO
The USO strengthens America's military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. At hundreds of locations worldwide, we are united in our commitment to connect our service members and their families through countless acts of caring, comfort, and support. The USO is a private, non-profit organization, not a government agency. Our programs, services and entertainment tours are made possible by the American people, support of our corporate partners and the dedication of our volunteers and staff.
In addition to individual donors and corporate sponsors, the USO is supported by President's Circle Partners: AT&T, the BNSF Railway Foundation, Clark Construction Group, LLC, The Coca-Cola Company, FedEx, Jeep, Johnson & Johnson, Kroger, NFL, Southern New Hampshire University and Four-Star Partners: Advisors Excel, BIC, ConAgra Foods, GEICO, Harris Teeter, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Starbucks, TKS, USAA and the Wawa Foundation. We are also supported through the United Way and Combined Federal Campaign (CFC-11381). To join us in this important mission, and to learn more about the USO, please visit uso.org.