MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJUENE N.C. --
The honoring of six North Carolina servicemembers was the highlight of the USO of North Carolina's 70th anniversary at the Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, N.C., Oct. 7.
Award recipients from the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and Army National Guard were given the spotlight during the event, and were brought center stage to be applauded and thanked for their service. Each U.S. military branch was represented by one award recipient.
Guest speakers such as retired Army Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata, explained it seemed fitting that an organization established to serve the military would celebrate its anniversary by honoring heroic servicemembers.
Petty Officer 2nd Class, Ryan Wayne Tilley, corpsman, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, was one such hero who was commended for his actions in Afghanistan. In September 2010, under enemy fire, Tilley treated a triple-amputee and another servicemember with several shrapnel wounds to the face.
“The single most important accomplishment during deployment to me is saving lives,” said Tilly. “That’s the first time I had ever been in combat so when the rounds started flying it took me a second to realize what was going on. A round landed inches from my feet and all I could think about was, ‘Damn there finally shooting at us. This is actually happening.’”
A few tables across from Tilly sat Staff Sgt. Robert J. Dawson II, amphibious raids instructor, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force. During a firefight in Afghanistan Dawson exposed himself to enemy fire in order to untangle an antenna, because of his actions Dawson’s squad was able to reestablish communication and coordinate for air support. Unfortunately while returning to his position Dawson was shot in his left hand.
“I come from a very heavy military background family from both my mother and father’s side, said Dawson. “I always wanted to serve my country.”
Some heroes had fought a little closer to home. Petty Officer 2nd Class, Thomas R. Taylor, damage controlman, Joint Maritime Training Center, had just finished surfing with friends when he heard muffled screams. A surfer was trapped to a pier, with the help of a friend Taylor swam out, untangled and rescued the boy.
“I was able to apply what I’ve learned as a rescue swimmer,” said Taylor. “It was a big deal to me. It’s a great feeling inside to know that you’ve saved someone – that you’ve made that kind of impact.”
As an intro to the award ceremony, guest speaker Tata prepped the stage by speaking with admiration of both the USO and servicemember’s service. “As we think about our USO supporters and honorees we think about our country’s prosperity,” said Tata. “I am humbled being here tonight and it is a real privilege being around so many distinguished servicemembers past and present. I have had the privilege of shaking the hands of the servicemembers that all of us will meet tonight and these men exemplify the character and ideals of the uniformed service.”
The banquet drew hundreds of USO of NC members, including former and current servicemembers. As the banquet finished with dinner and live music, the room buzzed with conversation while many took the opportunity to share stories and mingle.
Kathleen Volandt, a USO of NC representative at the banquet was just one of many who appreciated both the USO for their support of troops and the U.S military for their service.
“As junior enlisted in the Army I personally have gained from USO shows. I grew up with Bob Hope,” said Volant, also a mother of a Marine. “In 2004 I contacted the USO and asked if they needed any help. It’s been a pleasure to give back. We need to honor those that have the courage and the strength to be in uniform as much as we can. Their service gives all of us hope that there is still integrity and immense love of this country and it is just amazing and inspiring to continue to see so many events to honor our troops.”