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 two Soldier recipients — representing Army and Army National Guard — 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.
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.
Editor's note: This article was adapted from a story originally published on Defense.gov.