When President Barack Obama gives his final State of the Union address Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama will be sitting with one of the first female soldiers to graduate U.S. Army Ranger School and an Air Force staff sergeant who helped thwart a terrorist from attacking a train traveling to Paris.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone, Army Reserve Major Lisa Jaster and four veterans have been invited to sit in the guest box with the First Lady and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill Biden.
"For the President's final State of the Union address, the individuals who will be seated in the guest box of First Lady Michelle Obama represent the progress we have made since the President first delivered this speech seven years ago," a White House official said in a recent press release.
"Their stories -- of struggle and success -- highlight where we have been and where America is going in the future, building on the best of what our country has to offer. The guests personify President Obama's time in office and most importantly, they represent who we are as Americans: inclusive and compassionate, innovative and courageous."
Stone was awarded the Airman's Medal, a Purple Heart and a promotion to staff sergeant for his actions in August of last year. He was traveling on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris when he, Anthony Sadler, U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos and a British businessman subdued a suspected Islamic extremist who was armed with an AK-47, Luger pistol and box cutter.
The gunman repeatedly slashed Spencer with the box cutter, inflicting cuts to his neck and hand. The 23-year-old EMT and resident of Sacramento, California, survived the ordeal -- and another incident back home in which he was attacked with a knife back outside a bar -- and hopes to continue his work in medicine.
Jaster became the first female Army Reserve officer to graduate from the Ranger School, the Army's elite infantry leadership course. She followed the path of two of her Ranger School classmates -- Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, who earned their Tabs in an Aug. 21 in a historic ceremony at Fort Benning.
The 37-year-old combat engineer is a mother of two children. The average age of a student in Ranger School is 23 years old, according to Army officials.
Jaster graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point in New York in 2000. She was on active duty for seven years and deployed in support of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom before leaving active duty in 2007 to work at Shell Oil Co. In 2012, Lisa returned to service, joining the Army Reserve, and took a leave of absence from Shell last April to pursue Ranger School.
Jaster was one of the original group of 19 women who tried out for grueling training program in April. Since then, the Army has opened the traditionally all-male course to all soldiers, male or female.
There will also be four veterans sitting with the first lady.
Cynthia "Cindy" K. Dias is a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War in a hospital ship as a registered nurse. She managed care for wounded soldiers, and worked alongside the chaplain as the designated official to provide notification and care for families of wounded and deceased officers.
After her service, she worked as a registered nurse in Florida and Louisiana and eventually moved to Las Vegas, where she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and lost her job before eventually also losing her home. She found a place to live at Veterans Village, a non-profit working with the city of Las Vegas to provide resources for homeless veterans.
She now volunteers with Veterans Village, and she works to care and advocate for veterans in the city.
U.S. Army veteran Naveed Shah, originally from Saudi Arabia, grew up in Springfield, Virginia, after immigrating to the United States with his Pakistani parents.
Like many immigrants who arrive here as children, Shah noted that his birth country felt foreign while America is home. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2006 and served for four years, deploying to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Shah returned to his hometown in 2010 for college and to work with veterans groups assisting in the transition between military and civilian life.
Army veteran Earl Smith first met then-Senator Barack Obama in February 2008 on the campaign trail at the Austin Hyatt Regency where he worked as the director of security.
Encountering him in an elevator, Earl gave Obama a 101st Airborne Division patch he had worn serving with an artillery brigade in Vietnam.
Smith had held onto his patch for 40 years -- from Vietnam, to his 1977 pardon after three years in prison for a wrongful conviction, to global work in the hospitality industry -- before parting with it in the elevator that day.
Then-Sen. Obama carried the patch in his pocket for the rest of the campaign, but Earl had no idea of the impact his story had on the president until he heard it directly from him in the Oval Office in 2013. The patch will be archived in the Obama Library -- a reminder of the people who made up the movement that led the president to the White House.
Oscar Vazquez earned his citizen ship after serving in the U.S. Army. He came to the United States as a child in search of a better life. From age 12 when he moved from Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona, Vazquez excelled in the classroom. The student at Carl Hayden High School and led an unlikely and inspiring story of a group of under-resourced Hispanic high school students who took on an MIT team in an underwater robotics competition and won.
That opportunity led to a college education in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM field, earning Vazquez a degree in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University in May 2009.
Six months later, Vasquez enlisted in the Army and served one tour in Afghanistan. He's now a proud U.S. citizen and works for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railways as a business analyst in a web app development team, and is a passionate advocate on behalf on expanding STEM opportunities for Latino and other under-represented youth.
--Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.