[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/08/kiran.uso3.jpg caption= "Kiran Chetry emcees the USO Woman of the Year luncheon."]
Hero. We use the word lightly at times. But today, I had the honor to meet many of them. It was a celebration of some brave women in our Armed Forces and the quiet, enduring support of civilians who help them.
It was an awards luncheon for the USO of Metropolitan New York.
They asked me to emcee the Woman of the Year awards at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at the Time Warner Center in New York and I eagerly accepted.
At a time when many people around the nation are struggling in tough economic times, there's a tendency to turn inward... to worry about oneself and one's own family. And that's only natural. It can be hard when you are struggling yourself to look up and see the need of others around you as well. But that is what the members of our armed forces do everyday. They volunteer to fight their neighbor's fight, their country's fight, and to put their own lives and their families well-being at risk to serve a greater cause. That is a true hero. And that's what the USO does as well. It recognizes this sacrifice and tries to do all it can to ease the burden to provide support and comfort to the fighting men and women overseas and those who come home injured and in need.
The USO is the way Americans support the troops. The USO provides a vital link to the men and women in our armed services, helping them stay in touch with loved ones, bringing them entertainment in the war zone, providng goods and services, and simple day-to-day comforts.
I want to share with you now the stories of recipients of the Military Leadership Award. It's given to service members who, through selfless dedication to their jobs, inspire others and lift the spirits of their comrades, their families, and the American people.
Staff Sergeant Courtnee Torres is an eight year veteran of the United States Army who served in Iraq for 26 months in total between her two deployments. While deployed to Iraq to transport detainees throughout Baghdad, Staff Sergeant Torres applied her personal passion for training and mentorship to train Iraqi Police on station operations. Her work supported efforts to transfer power from the forces of the United States to the nation of Iraq and helped to promote the safety and security of the Iraqi people. She was also commended for her actions with wounded personnel during a mission in Iraq where she cared for and evacuated a wounded local national. Now back in the states, Staff Sergeant Torres continues to mentor others around her on a daily basis. She is a constant inspiration to and an important influence in the lives of many soldiers and their families.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/08/kiran.uso2.2.jpg caption="Kiran Chetry with the two Women of the Year, Major General Patricia D. Horoho and Stephanie George, Executive of Time, Inc."]
Sergeant Irene Chan, United States Marine Corps, is an enthusiastic, selfless, and dependable Marine who arrived at her current post as an Operations Statistician for the 1st Marine Corps District recruiting command in Garden City following a deployment to the Iraqi Theater of Operations. Sergeant Chan has traveled throughout the Northeast on numerous occasions to address female Marine Corps applicants and has inspired many prospects to emulate her. Sergeant Chan’s attitude and contributions are exemplary and enhance the Marine Corps' image.
Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Petty Officer Britni Godfrey recently served on an Embedded Police Mentoring Team in Farah, Afghanistan, where she was the sole medical provider. She very quickly established herself among her colleagues as a confident leader and composed professional. On one occasion, for example, she assumed command of the vehicle she was riding in while under enemy attack. As she saw the situation deteriorating, she drew on her confidence and composure to direct the panicking driver through an ambush with a disabled vehicle. Together with the team, she conducted 79 missions and survived two enemy ambushes. She provided medical aid to over 500 Afghan and Coalition Force service members and was instrumental in six causality evacuation cases with multi-system trauma patients. During her tour, she also taught combat life saving classes to Afghan and Coalition Force service members and participated in humanitarian missions treating over 70 local Afghan female patients.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/08/kiran.uso1.jpg caption="CNN's Kiran Chetry with the USO Liberty Bells."]
Technical Sergeant Katie White, United States Air Force, is a 9 year veteran of the 106th Medical Group, New York Air National Guard. Technical Sergeant White is a leader among her peers, who leads by example and epitomizes the Air Force code core values. While deployed to Sather Air Force Base in Baghdad, Iraq last year, she revived a humanitarian program designed to reach out to the Iraqi community. Through a struggling clinic run by the Iraqi Army, she coordinated stateside donations of much needed medical supplies, clothing, and baby care supplies for Iraqi women and children.
Boatswain’s Mate First Class Jessica Wolchak, United States Coast Guard has participated in hundreds of Homeland Security operations at both the national and international levels. She has overseen dozens of search and rescue cases as Officer of the Day, including the US Airways Flight 1549 crash landing in the Hudson River. After receiving the initial call, Petty Officer Wolchak responded to the scene and immediately began assisting fellow New York City rescue workers in saving the lives of 155 passengers and flight crewmembers amidst the frigid 40-degree water and diminishing daylight. The leadership, professionalism, and judgment she displayed that day was of the exceptional caliber all who know her have come to expect.
They've accomplished so much in their young lives. It was an honor to meet them today.