USO's night of triumph and tribute

The USO's annual awards dinner is a great reminder of the sacrifices and heroism of the military service members, and the families that support them.

The annual awards dinner put on by the USO of Metropolitan Washington is a showcase of patriotism, bravery and celebrities.

This year’s event featured actors Lou Diamond Phillips and Joe Mantegna, who were recognized for the visits they make to wounded sailors, soldiers and Marines, as well as the work they do that honors the military. There also were a good dose of professional wrestlers from the WWE.

But the night really was about service men and women, such as Air Force Lt. Susan Batzer-Frye, an intensive care nurse who flew medevac missions in Afghanistan, and Navy Cmdr. Angela Earley, a trauma surgeon who, during her first tour in Iraq, treated 900 injured Americans and Iraqi soldiers, as well as civilians.

They were among the six military service members honored at the Thursday black tie event from the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, National Guard and Navy.

The annual Col. John Gioia award went to Kathleen Causey, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Causey. When Aaron deployed to Afghanistan for the third time, Mrs. Causey began volunteering for the USO near Fort Drum, N.Y.

Then came the news that her husband, a bomb technician, was injured on Sept. 7, 2011, while trying to defuse an improvised explosive device. The IED took off both of his legs above the knee and injured both hands. Suddenly, she went from being a volunteer to being a person in need.

“I came full circle,” she said.

While helping her husband in his recovery – he now has artificial legs that he can walk on, though he also still uses a wheelchair – Mrs. Causey has become an ambassador for USO-Metro, going out on speaking engagements and giving interviews.

She moved many in the audience to tears as she paid tribute to the nameless mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters and brothers of wounded service men and women, who don’t ask for recognition, who don’t ask for respite, as they care for their family members.

“Don’t think of me, think of them,” she said in urging support for the USO.

Mrs. Causey also showed that she has some of the same spunk and energy that fuels Elaine Rogers, president of USO Metro. If you have met Rogers, you know that even the Joint Chiefs of Staff can’t say no to her.

So, as Mrs. Causey closed her talk, she paid tribute to her Alabama roots: “God bless you, and Roll Tide,” which drew laughter and cheers.

When Mantegna took the stage shortly afterward, he said, “You know, I think I just became an Alabama fan. Roll Tide. What can I say?”

The annual dinner is also about money and fundraising, and Thursday night’s dinner raised $660,000. Over the years, the money from this dinner has gone to build USO welcome centers at airports, such as Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and at BWI in Baltimore.

The USO also has recently opened a Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. A second is planned at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

One surprise recognition went to John Marselle, USO board chairman, for his more than 20 years of volunteer work with the organization. Marselle is the former CEO of Robbins-Gioia, and had a long career with Sun Microsystems. As is fitting with his fun-loving personality, Marselle was given a Hawaiian shirt, which he put on instead of his tuxedo jacket.

And finally, I’ll give a shout out to Boeing Co., the presenting sponsor of the awards dinner. Not only do they support the dinner, the company also pledged $700,000 and three years of support for a Mobile USO, a 34-foot RV that provides food and other support at military deployments and homecomings. It also can be used at other events.

So far, the Mobile USO has served 360,000 meals.

To paraphrase Mrs. Causey: Roll USO, Roll.

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