President Barack Obama presented the USO with the National Medal of Arts on Monday of this week for "contributions to lifting the spirits of America's troops and their families through the arts." The award is the U.S. government's highest arts honor.
The ceremony, which took place in the East Room of the White House, is an annual event recognizing exemplary individuals and/or organizations for their encouragement of the arts and delivery of inspirations to others through their achievement, support and patronage. The USO is the only military charity or military-related organization to ever receive the National Medal of Arts in the medal's 28-year history.
"We are humbled by the President's recognition of our mission to lift the spirits of troops and their families through exceptional entertainment around the world," said Sloan Gibson, USO President and CEO. "Most importantly - we have never done this alone. From our celebrity friends who have worked with us over the years, our military and corporate partners, and our hard working Entertainment staff - we all share in this honor. We celebrate this award with all of you and with more than 1.4 million service men and women and their families who currently serve our nation."
"Throughout our history, the USO has been taking American celebrities we see in our living rooms to entertain live on the battlefield for America's troops serving around the world," said General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the USO Board of Governors and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We are truly honored to receive this year's National Medal of Arts. We consider it a privilege to support our nation's troops and military families, and will continue to serve them as well as educate the American public about the unique issues they face."
In 2011, the USO deployed 136 celebrity entertainers on 83 tours to 25 countries and 19 states, entertaining more than 296,000 troops and military families. Nineteen of these tours were to a combat zone in the Middle East. That same year, the USO delivered more than 500 special entertainment events to include concerts, autograph signings, hospital visits and movie screenings. Entertainers who recently toured with the USO include Toby Keith, Carlos Mencia, Gary Sinise, Jon Stewart, Babyface, Train, NFL coaches Gary Kubiak, Jim Mora Jr., Jim Mora Sr., Ken Whisenhunt and other NFL greats, NBA legend Karl Malone, Jillian Michaels, Kellie Pickler, NASCAR drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, Anna Kournikova, and Jordin Sparks.
Recipients of the National Medal of Arts are personally selected by the President of the United States. Each year, the National Endowment for the Arts initiates the selection process by soliciting nominations for the Medal from the public and various arts fields. Nominations are reviewed by the National Council on the Arts.