Okinawa Marine receives ‘USO Volunteer of the Year’ award
During a special tribute to our men and women in uniform at the star-studded 2013 USO Gala in Washington, DC, on Oct. 25, Gunnery Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson was recognized for breathing new life into the Camp Hansen and Camp Schwab USO centers on Okinawa. Johnson accepted the ‘2013 USO Volunteer of the Year’ and was lauded for his enthusiasm, stellar customer service skills and for treating each visitor with great care and attention.
Johnson, an active duty Marine, helped the USO weather a typhoon, kept deployed parents connected to their children through reading, and served as a mentor to young Marines during his more than 1,000 hours of volunteer service to USO centers while deployed to Okinawa.
“The USO Volunteer of the Year award is an honor reserved for those individuals who truly go above and beyond and embody USO’s mission of lifting the spirit of America’s troops and their families,” Alan Reyes, Senior Vice President, USO Operations, said in a September release. “GySgt. Johnson gives of himself each and every day he puts on the Marine uniform to protect our freedoms here at home. Yet, it is his nearly decade long career as a USO volunteer, giving back to help his fellow troops and military families, that makes him so deserving of this honor.”
Johnson began volunteering with the USO while on deployment to Iraq in 2004, but his nomination followed time spent in the Pacific Region during a six month Unit Deployment Program to the island of Okinawa. Johnson quickly integrated himself into the USO community on the island offering his time and services to two USO centers located on Camp Schwab and Camp Hansen.
Following his 12-hour duty days Johnson would cook up his popular “midnight munchies”, keeping the centers open after hours as a place of relaxation and comfort especially for the young Marines serving unaccompanied and with limited transportation options. Johnson also served as chief recruiter, encouraging service men and women of all rank to volunteer their time and “pay it forward”.
As a father of eight serving overseas with his wife and children back in the states, USO programs providing a connection to home and promoting resiliency in children like United Through Reading’s Military Program are close to Johnson’s heart. He devoted much of his time in Okinawa to educating service men and women about the opportunities USO offers to connect home. He participated in USO’s Read Around the World campaign celebrating the 250,000th United Through Reading recording and led the efforts to renovate the program room, brainstorming the design, painting, and recruiting an artist to recreate popular children’s literary characters on the walls.
“As a result of his hands-on involvement with the program, and his contagious enthusiasm, everyone benefitted. From the Marine walking in and hearing about the opportunity, to the child who received and listened to the recording of their mom or dad reading their favorite bedtime story,” said LouBee Zielinski Center Manager, USO Camp Hansen. “Overall, as a result of Johnson’s efforts, our events were better attended, our popularity grew, our programs improved and were more frequently utilized, and knowledge of our mission and programs spread. Our volunteer cadre exploded!”
During last year’s devastating typhoon Jelawat, which rocked the island with wind gusts up to 137 mph, Johnson rapidly rallied volunteers to move the USO center’s furniture, equipment and materials to drier ground. As a result of his quick thinking many items were saved. Following the storm, Johnson immediately initiated repairs to damaged areas, keeping the center open.
The USO Volunteer of the Year is selected for recognition from the USO’s four geographic regions (Europe, Pacific, Southwest Asia and the U.S.). From these approximately sixteen volunteers, one is selected from each region. Of the final four, the USO Volunteer of the Year is chosen by a selection panel that consists of four USO Regional Vice Presidents, a representative of the USO Chartered Centers Council, two members of the USO Board of Governors and the USO Senior Vice President of Operations.