Country crooners generally headline the annual Gala for the USO. The past few years’ attendees have seen the likes of Randy Travis, Toby Keith and Trace Adkins.
But last Friday at the Washington Hilton, recording artist Jordin Sparks went all American Idol for these American idols. Having visited military bases overseas in the Middle East, Sparks was eager to continue to serve — through song.
Her mini-concert was part of a well decorated night of deserved honor, recognizing the bravery and sacrifice of an enlisted hero from each branch of the military. The event also featured a keynote speech by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the welcoming of award recipients to include Admiral Michael G. Mullen, USN (Ret) and Mrs. Deborah Mullen (Spirit of the USO Award).
Sparks’ celeb company included Kelli Finglass, Director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders; The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders; Chip Bok, National Editorial Cartoonist; Bruce Higdon, Caricature/Army Cartoonist; Ed Steckley, MAD Magazine; Kellen Winslow Sr., Pro Football Hall of Famer; and MasterChef Winner Jennifer Behm.
Behm even created a pomegranate lemonade USO cocktail in honor of her brother in the Air Force. Even the drink was like countrytime… but with a little spark.
Here is the full list of the night’s honorees:
- Soldier of the Year: Staff Sergeant Jacob J. Perkins, C Troop, 1-89 Cavalry, Fort Drum, NY
- Marine of the Year: Sergeant Clifford M. Wooldridge, Training Company, Marine Corps Security Force Regiment (MCSFR), Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex, Chesapeake, VA
- Sailor of the Year: EOD2 (EWS) Gregory F. Gaylor, EODMU Three, Naval Base San Diego, CA
- Airman of the Year: Staff Sergeant Christopher S. Beversdorf, Tactical Air Command and Control Journeyman, 25th Air Support Operations Squadron, Wheeler Army Airfield, HI
- Coast Guardsman of the Year: ME2 Nicholas A. Beane, Explosive Detection K9 Team, USCG Maritime Security Response Team Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, VA
- National Guardsman of the Year: Senior Airman Evan J. Stevens, 183rd Fighter Wing’s Security Forces Squadron, Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, Springfield, IL
*All photos credit Stacey Barnett