NEW YORK, Dec. 11, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Nearly 1,000 guests gathered at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square for the 54th USO of Metropolitan New York's Armed Forces Gala and Gold Medal Dinner to celebrate the men and women of America's military. The USO honored General Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife Ricki, as well as, Frank Bisignano, Chairman & CEO of First Data Corporation. One enlisted service member from each branch of the armed forces was also recognized for showing extraordinary commitment to protecting our freedom.

The event was hosted by NBC's Willie Geist, who has been a long-time supporter of our military and has been involved with the USO in various capacities through the years. Meredith Vieira presented the USO George Van Cleave Military Leadership Awards to five outstanding enlisted service members. Honorees this year included a service member involved in the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, DC and in the attempted terror attack on a French train earlier this year.

The 2015 USO George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award Recipients:

  • US Army: Sergeant Rachael Nicol (Fort Bragg, North Carolina)
  • US Marine Corps: Staff Sergeant Zachary Rubart (Washington, DC)
  • US Navy: Hospital Corpsman First Class Timothy Bleigh (Honolulu, Hawaii)
  • US Air Force: Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone (Sacramento, California)
  • US Coast Guard: Aviation Survival Technician Second Class Darren Harrity (Eugene, Oregon)

Brian Whiting, President and CEO of the USO of Metropolitan New York reflected on the changes that have taken place in today's military and pledged USO's commitment to always being by the side of our nation's service members throughout their time of service.
"Over the years, the military has experienced a lot of change.  Today we live in a fully wired world, and we're protected by a military that has been an all-volunteer force for four decades," said Whiting. "But a central challenge of military life is dealing with the separation that comes with service. Our military can be comforted by the fact that every one of you, along with millions of Americans, are committed to easing this burden."
Sadie Robertson, of A&E's Duck Dynasty and ABC's Dancing with the Stars discussed the great impact USO volunteers have on the organization and service members. With more than 30,000 USO volunteers located around the world, the USO's volunteers are the link that helps service members stay connected to home despite how far away they are from loved ones. Robertson awarded the USO Volunteer of the Year Award to international fashion designer, Sherri Hill and more than 50 Miss USA and Miss Teen USA titleholders for their participation and support of Operation That's My Dress, a program that provides thousands of new gowns and dresses to military teens, female service members and military spouses.
The world-renowned USO Show Troupe provided musical entertainment for the evening. The Late Show host, Stephen Colbert also entertained the crowd when he welcomed General Raymond Odierno to the stage and recounted their time together during a USO entertainment tour in Iraq in which Colbert was ordered by the President to shave his head.
The USO Distinguished Service Awards were presented to General Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Mrs. Ricki Selva, and Frank Bisignano, Chairman and CEO of First Data Corporation.
During General Odierno's introduction for Bisignano, he talked about his deep affection for the USO. "They are always there to bring America to us. In places that frankly, sometimes, if they were not there you wouldn't remember what America was about. They bring home. They bring entertainment. They ensure that service members understand people are thinking about them no matter where they may be around the world."
During Bisignano's award acceptance speech, he spoke at length about the value veterans bring to the civilian workplace. "I've seen firsthand just how important veterans and military spouses are for our country, for our economy and for our defense. Whether it was in the companies I've worked or the communities I've lived, these men and women have always been some of the best and most important models of leadership and citizenship for me," said Bisignano. "That's why I've made it a priority to ensure that this new generation of veterans, their spouses and families receive all the opportunities they deserve."
The USO also announced that construction is underway on a new USO center at Newark Liberty International Airport. Thanks to an unprecedented gift of more than $1 million from Prudential and $250,000 from Johnson & Johnson, the center will open in less than 100 days with a full breadth of programming.
The USO is a non-profit organization that is by the side of service members throughout their entire journey of service, from the moment they join and until they transition back to their communities. For nearly 75 years, the USO has been committed to keeping deployed troops connected to home, bringing laughter and a much-needed break to troops and their families around the world as well as providing critical programs and services for our troops in transition, wounded, ill and injured troops and their caregivers, and families of the fallen. The USO of Metropolitan New York extends its gratitude to our 2015 Gala sponsors:

  • Presenting Sponsors: First Data Corporation, Prudential, United Technologies Corporation
  • Co-Chair Sponsors: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Catsimatidis Family Foundation, JetBlue Airways, Johnson & Johnson, Tukaiz
  • Freedom Sponsors: MetLife

To obtain USO photos of the event, please contact Katherine Beshear at or 212-605-5590 ext. 232.
About the USO
The USO strengthens America's military service members by maintaining their connections 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. To join us in this important mission, and to learn more about the USO of Metropolitan New York, please visit

Katherine Beshear 
212-695-5590 ext. 232