(StatePoint) Every year, the United Service Organizations (USO) honors junior enlisted service members who have exhibited a commitment to protecting and serving others both on and off duty.
Nominated by their command leadership, the seven 2022 USO Service Members of the Year come from every military branch, and government officials, military leaders and USO supporters recently celebrated their achievements at the USO’s Annual Awards Dinner in Washington DC, hosted by Drew Carey.
“From defending an Air Base to rescuing civilians in accidents and fires, these honorees have performed inspiring acts of heroism, exemplifying the values of both the USO and the Armed Forces,” said USO president and CEO, J.D. Crouch II.
Here’s what to know about this year’s honorees:
• USO Soldier of the Year: Sergeant Erick Ceja was responsible for enabling the first U.S. Patriot missile engagement in combat in more than 19 years after incoming enemy ballistic missiles were identified as threats to the Al Dhafra Air Base. He analyzed the incoming threat, manned his battle station to ensure all launchers were operating properly and led his crew members through a perfect assumption drill. His actions ensured the safety of more than 3,500 service members and Department of Defense civilians.
• USO Airman of the Year: Without hesitation, Staff Sergeant Blake M. Metscher climbed through an overturned minivan to rescue a trapped family suffering from head trauma and lacerations in a multi-vehicle highway accident. His actions were key to the victims’ survival and lauded by first responders.
• USO Coast Guardsman of the Year: Maritime Enforcement Specialist Second Class Jacob Flores saved three lives on an uncharted section of the Rio Grande River while operating a Response Boat early one morning. Upon spotting two women and an infant struggling with no life preservers, Flores dove in to pull them from the unforgiving river despite imminent personal danger. His actions ensured the safety of all three victims who received emergency medical care after the rescue.
• USO Marine of the Year: Corporal Alec T. Cruz saved the life of a fellow Marine after responding to a 911 call requesting medical assistance for an unconscious service member. He quickly placed her in the recovery position, evaluated her condition, and initiated CPR when her breathing stopped and a pulse could no longer be located. Cruz revived the Marine after two cycles of CPR and provided lifesaving support while awaiting medical care.
• USO Sailor of the Year: While off duty near his home base in Virginia, Cryptologic Petty Officer Third Class Ty Knight responded to the sound of gunshots from a drive-by at a nearby intersection. He and another sailor took action, supported the survivor at the scene and remained with them until emergency officials arrived.
• USO National Guardsman of the Year: Specialist Solomon Doss responded to a fire early one morning while on duty as a police officer in Alabama. He brought an elderly woman who had become incapacitated due to smoke inhalation to safety before the building was engulfed in flames. His composure and rapid response saved her life.
• USO Guardian of the Year: Sergeant Octavio Cesar Castruita was off duty when he witnessed a pregnant woman cry for help as a visibly distraught man attempted to seize her vehicle. He ran to the woman’s aid, then detained the offender long enough for emergency responders to take him into police custody. Castruita’s rapid response saved the woman and her unborn child from harm.
“America’s service members put their lives on the line to keep us safe. That is why it’s so vital to honor their service and sacrifice,” says Crouch.
Photo Credit: (c) USO Photos
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