The 2012 USO Gala, Featuring Entertainment by Jordin Sparks

The gala included entertainment, dinner and a number of high-profile speakers.
Jordin Sparks performing at the event. Photograph by James R. Brantley.
Jordin Sparks performing at the event. Photograph by James R. Brantley.

On Friday, November 2, the USO put on its annual gala, which honors servicemen and
women, with dinner and entertainment by pop singer and actress
Jordin Sparks. Speaking at the event, among others, were
Sloan D. Gibson, president and CEO of USO; General
Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff; and
Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense.

The dinner also included other notables, such as the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders,
NFL hall of famer
Kellen Winslow Sr. (who, before the event, said he was “trying to get Jordin Sparks’s autograph”), and
winner of Fox’s
MasterChef,
Jennifer Behm.

At the reception preceding the event, patrons jammed into a lobby at the Washington
Hilton in Dupont Circle, where they hit the open bar or snapped pictures in the photo
booth, which encouraged participants to offer kind words to the troops via cardboard
signs. Two women, armed with glasses of wine and sign-up sheets, stood behind a booth
covered with the cardboard signs and Party City-like patriotic memorabilia (glittery
red, white, and blue bowler hats common at Fourth of July keg parties).

The open bars shut down promptly at 7:15, much to the chagrin of those still in line.
But then the main ballroom opened, and the nearly 1,100 folks, who paid a minimum
of $1,000 per person for their tickets, flooded into the room and took seats at random
tables. This stampede was set to music by the Marine Corps Band.

Before the meal was served, Gibson offered an emotional and tearful speech. “There
are countless organizations out there doing great work,” he said, “but no other organization
[covers] the size and scope of the USO.”

Fox 5 anchor
Allison Seymour then introduced the entertainer for the evening, Jordin Sparks. Sparks sang three songs, including her hits “Battlefield,” “One Step at a Time,”
and “No Air.”

It was difficult to get the true flavor of the event, as media were sequestered in
a small corral, which made it possible to watch but not join the dining scene in the
ballroom. For that reason, many of the media departed the before the speeches from
Dempsey and Panetta, and before USO Service Member of the Year Awards were handed
out.

Both Dempsey and Panetta offered kind words for the USO. Dempsey quoted Yogi Berra
a number of times, saying, “If you don’t love Yogi Berra, you don’t have any sense.”
His speech kept the audience laughing and reflecting simultaneously.

Panetta gave a more serious speech, highlighting the importance of the USO to him
as a young boy and later to the soldiers of Vietnam.

The evening wrapped up with the awards. Honorees included USO Soldier of the Year
Staff Sergeant
Jacob J. Perkins, USO Marine of the Year Sergeant
Clifford M. Wooldridge, USO Sailor of the Year EOD2
Gregory F. Gaylor, USO Airman of the Year Staff Sergeant
Christopher S. Beversdorf, USO Coast Guardsman of the Year ME2
Nicholas A. Beane, USO National Guardsman of the Year SrA
Evan J. Stevens, and USO Volunteer of the Year Sergeant
Richard Schuh.

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