General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. would ultimately overcome the Ebola outbreak and the conflict with ISIS terrorists overseas.
“If I’d had this conversation with you four months ago, we wouldn’t be talking about insecurity in Europe. We wouldn’t be talking about this thing – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] – and we wouldn’t be talking about Ebola and here we are,” Dempsey said at the United Service Organizations annual gala Oct. 17.
“The joint chiefs and the men and women who serve, we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to figure out what the country needs us to do and we’re going to do it and we’re going to do it well and we’re going to keep the country safe,” Dempsey said to applause from the audience.
“Even while we’re sitting here tonight – besides the young men and women deployed in missions we already know about – we’ve got people packing their bags to go to Europe to reassure allies or go to Iraq or Kuwait to make sure that this threat of ISIL doesn’t continue to expand, and to go to places like Senegal and Liberia to make sure that this disease is contained and therefore doesn’t become a threat to the homeland, and that’s what they do,” he added.
Dempsey said the military is going to continue to keep the USO busy.
“So, the USO, I hope you didn’t think we’re going to put you out of work. We’re not going to put you out of work. You’re going to have some work to do and we’re proud to be partners with you in doing it,” Dempsey added.
Toward the end of his speech, Dempsey broke out in song.
“I found this little – it’s going to shock you when I tell you – it is an Irish ditty. It’s a little story about a bricklayer and he was actually writing to his boss to explain why he wasn’t at work on this particular day,” he said.
“I would describe it as kind of analogous to what it’s like to be serving at this level at this particular point in time,” Dempsey said, referring to “The Sick Note” by Pat Cooksey.
Noticeably absent at the USO gala were members of Congress. As the midterm elections approach, members of Congress are in their respective states campaigning for re-election. However, lawmakers from districts in the D.C. metro area were not in attendance, according to USO staff at the event.
Lawmakers who are members of the USO congressional caucus were featured in the booklet handed out at the event but were not part of the official ceremony as speakers or award presenters. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered brief remarks at the beginning of the event.
Country singer Kelly Pickler, who performed at the event, said the sacrifices of American servicemen and women have enabled citizens to follow their dreams.
“We wake up in the morning and we get to be whatever want to be – that’s a privilege, that’s a blessing and that’s something that we cannot take for granted, ever and if we do, we check ourselves and say, ‘You know what? Count your blessings.’ I’m so blessed. We all are,” said Pickler, who has completed 7 USO tours.
The USO Soldier of the Year award was presented to Sergeant Andrew J. Mahoney. Sergeant Matthew E. Belleci was named USO Marine of the Year and Petty Officer 1st Class Troy A. Cromer was recognized as USO Sailor of the Year.
USO Airman of the Year went to Senior Airman John C. Hamilton and USO Coast Guardsman of the Year went to Petty Officer 3rd Class Brett R. Bates. Sergeant Andrew J. Mehltretter was named USO National Guardsman of the Year.
USO Volunteers of the Year Awards were presented to Sergeant Geraldin Thibaut Lenkoue of the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and LeAnn Thornton of the USO Bay Area Francisco.