Nearly 2.3 million active-duty and Reserve personnel serve in the U.S. military. While most of those service members are outstanding at what they do, only a few are chosen to be their branch's USO Service Member of the Year.
Every year since 2003, one junior enlisted service member from each branch — E-5 or below — is nominated by command leadership to be honored for an act of valor. Whether it's saving the life of a comrade or stranger or leading during a critical moment, these men and women proved their commitment to helping others in times of need. In doing so, they embodied the values for which the armed forces stand.
"In displaying selflessness and bravery, these men and women have gone above and beyond the normal course of duty to be recognized as the USO's Service Members of the Year," said USO CEO and President J.D. Crouch II. "We are proud to honor their achievements and encourage all Americans to join us in doing the same."
The recipients of the 2021 USO Service Member of the Year Awards are:
Army Sgt. Breanna J. Jessop
Army Sgt. Breanna J. Jessop, of Myton, Utah, played a key role in the evacuation operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan this past August. When the 82nd Airborne Division was called to support the mission, Jessop became the noncommissioned officer in charge of the airport's chapel. Despite having limited to nonexistent resources, she used her ingenuity to ensure 4,000 members of the coalition force, including U.S. troops, had access to items used for basic hygiene.
Jessop also oversaw the orphanage that was formed as a result of the increase in unaccompanied minors being brought to the area, and she led the charge to help care for children ranging in age from 7 days to 17 years old. According to the USO, she protected their well-being and their dignity as human beings. Thanks to Jessop's devoted and selfless leadership efforts, more than 400 displaced children were protected from enemy attacks and the turmoil that unfolded during the operation.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnnharley S. Delacruz
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnnharley S. Delacruz is a hospital corpsman from Fountain Valley, California. He serves with Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton, California.
On July 30, 2020, an amphibious assault vehicle began to sink off the coast of San Clemente Island, California, during routine Marine Corps training operations. Delacruz was on a rescue vehicle that went to the ship's aid, and he quickly jumped into action to help the Marines trapped inside. He helped save one life by giving a patient in distress multiple rounds of CPR, epinephrine and other intubation medications.
As Delacruz was helping evacuate the patient via helicopter, he noticed the injured Marine's eardrums had ruptured and his oxygen tank was depleting. Relying on his medical training, Delacruz protected the patient's airway, monitored vital signs and found IV access. Delacruz then covered the patient with his own body to ward off hypothermia. Thanks to his quick-thinking, the patient survived.
Marine Corps Sgt. Seth A Dewey
Marine Corps Sgt. Seth A. Dewey, of Hesperia, Michigan, serves with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. During Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Dewey was part of the Embassy Quick Reaction Force that led a team responsible for securing the U.S. Embassy Baghdad's compound perimeter. At that time, hostile militias in the region often targeted DOD and State Department personnel, so they were subject to several indirect fire and unmanned aerial systems attacks.
During one attack, Dewey calmly passed along critical information that allowed the Embassy Operations Center to sound its shelter-in-place alarm in a timely manner. Thanks to his leadership, an aircraft was able to lift off from the embassy's helicopter pad unharmed, and a unit was able to take out an enemy drone. Dewey's squad also identified another enemy drone that was being used in conjunction with a rocket attack to target the embassy. According to the USO, Dewey's leadership and actions helped shape the rules of engagement for future units and security personnel.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan T. Daggett
Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan T. Daggett, of Greeley, Colorado, serves at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea with the 8th Security Forces Squadron, but he earned this honor for an incident that unfolded at his previous duty station in the Azores island chain off the coast of Portugal.
Daggett was on a spiritual resiliency trip to Sao Miguel Island when he witnessed a three-vehicle crash involving nine people. Daggett quickly jumped in to help. After checking on some of the victims, he noticed an unresponsive victim trapped inside one vehicle. He pried open a disabled door, pulled the person from the vehicle and began critical first aid that ultimately saved the person's life.
It wasn't the first time Daggett had helped save a life. During a joint exercise a few years earlier, Daggett saved a fellow paratrooper who had become entangled in his parachute. Later, in 2019, Dagget was chosen as a member of the airborne team that would parachute into Normandy, France, as part of the 75th D-Day commemoration.
Army Sgt. Francisco Javier Luna, Massachusetts National Guard
By day, Massachusetts Army National Guard Sgt. Francisco Javier Luna is a police officer with the Springfield, Massachusetts, Police Department. One chilly morning, Luna was on patrol when he received a 911 call to help an infant who had stopped breathing. Within minutes, Luna got to the scene to find a panicked mother and an unresponsive 3-month-old boy whose skin had turned blue.
Luna quickly started infant CPR while waiting for emergency crews to arrive. After about three minutes, the boy regained consciousness and began breathing on his own. Luna's steady hand and leadership helped save the baby.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Gerrod J. Britton
On July 5, 2020, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Gerrod J. Britton, a boatswain's mate stationed at Morro Bay, California, was off-duty and driving when he saw a vehicle in front of him cross the median and crash into oncoming traffic. The Plattsmouth, Nebraska, native immediately stopped to help. He pulled two people to safety and went back for a third, who was severely injured and trapped underneath the vehicle as it began to catch fire.
Despite the increasing hazard, Britton and another bystander lifted the vehicle on its side long enough for Britton to pull the unconscious man through a broken window. A few seconds later, the entire vehicle was engulfed in flames. Britton dragged the man to a safe area, gave him CPR and tried to control the bleeding from several injuries before emergency responders arrived. His courageous actions earned him the Coast Guard Commendation Medal.