WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 20, 2014) -- Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and other senior leaders joined the United Service Organizations in honoring Soldiers who exemplified selfless service, at the 2014 USO Gala here, Friday.

The United Service Organizations, better known as the USO, honored Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, a signal systems specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, as its "Soldier of the Year."

The Laingsburg, Michigan, native, said he was amazed at his selection from "thousands and thousands of Soldiers," and noted, just as they are for his Army awards, his family is just as proud of him for this achievement.

"They've been proud of me since the day I joined [the Army]," Mahoney said, "and it just gets better and better with everything that happened."

"And this is just the capstone, so far, of the decorations that I've gotten," he said.

Mahoney was presented his honors by Odierno for his role in saving 24 people, including his own brigade commander, by identifying and tackling a suicide bomber near the provincial governor's compound in Asadabad, Afghanistan, on Aug. 8, 2012.

The assailant was able to detonate his vest, wounding Mahoney and Capt. Florent Groberg, who also tackled the attacker.

Mahoney, who earned the Silver Star for his gallantry, said he couldn't explain why he took action despite imminent danger.

"It's hard to say what drives it," he said. "Things like that happen so quickly that it just comes down to your gut instincts. It's just that kind of thing that's bred into you, I guess."

Mahoney credited joining the Army as a part of the reason for his character and selflessness.

"My values have changed since I joined," he said. "You think less about yourself and more about other people."

The sergeant said he "definitely, absolutely" plans to continue trying to help others.

"I just came back in August from my most recent deployment," Mahoney said. "I helped out at the USO there at Kandahar Airfield just because I had the time, and I enjoy doing it."

Two other Soldiers were also recognized by the USO for their service and volunteerism.

Sgt. Geraldin "Thibaut" Lenkoue, originally from the African nation of Cameroon, and now a Boston native, was named USO Overseas Volunteer of the Year from a pool of 29,000 candidates.

Lenkoue, a medical laboratory technician based in Landstuhl, Germany, was selected after spending 1,220 hours at his USO center, in 2013 alone -- expressed the reward of volunteering especially with wounded warriors.

"To tell you the truth, when I started volunteering, I didn't know there was such great recognition at the end," he said. "I started going to help, and every single time I learned something new."

"In the beginning, I just went there to go because I had the free time," Lenkoue said. "I started seeing wounded warriors. They come into Landstuhl to get treatment, and then they actually took time to come to you and say 'thank you for your service.'"

"You see them on crutches and in wheelchairs," he said, "and it means a lot -- I couldn't stop helping them at that point."

USO National Guardsmen of the Year and combat medic, Sgt. Andrew Mehltretter, was also honored for his role in leading three other service members in rescuing a motorist from an overturned, burning vehicle, on Jan. 12.

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, where he also serves as a critical care nurse at the University of Kentucky Medical Care Center, Mehltretter was incredulous when he was informed of his honor.

"When I got the phone call, I almost felt it was a little backwards after everything the USO has already done for me," he said. "To have them honoring me almost felt a little backwards, but it was a huge honor."

Mehltretter, who was presented his award by National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Frank J. Grass, also credited his military training "100 percent" for his ability to help take action and save lives.

"My military training and everything just kicked in," he said. "It wasn't even a split-second pause there. We knew exactly what we needed to do -- even without talking."

"My specialist and I just kind of went into action and pulled that guy out," Mehltretter said. "We didn't even realize what really had happened until it was over in a sense. I'd definitely say that's National Guard training and everything I've been through in the Army."

The sergeant also expressed his gratitude for the USO for its commitment to the military.

"They're honoring me tonight," Mehltretter said, "but when it really comes down to it, I think I should honor them for everything they've done for me in my career."

"From deploying to Iraq and just traveling throughout the nation, the USO has just been a very big help in my life," he said.