USO Service Salute Celebrates American and Japanese Honorees Despite COVID

USO Service Salute Celebrates American and Japanese Honorees Despite COVID

by Cindy Kirkman
USO Okinawa

In 1971, USO Okinawa held its inaugural premiere event – The USO Okinawa Service Salute Gala. Forty-nine years later, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization was determined to carry on the time-honored bilateral tradition of recognizing seven service men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces and Japan Self-Defense Forces for their outstanding professionalism, leadership, service to country, and embodiment of the USO's eight core values. These core values include Mission First, Do the Right Thing, Respect, Excellence, Collaboration, Accountability, Gratitude, and Innovation.

Traditionally this event is a black-tie, VIP event, with nearly 400 guests, featuring entertainment, a Kagami Biraki ceremony, dinner, and dancing. However, this year these elite service members were honored by the USO, high-ranking officials, and their closest peers in small gatherings. They join an elite group of men and women who are the best of the best. 

The 49th Annual Service Salute Honorees for 2020 include:


Staff Sergeant Fukuhara Kotaro, Japan Air Self-Defense

Staff Sergeant Fukuhara Kotaro, Japan Air Self-Defense


Sergeant First Class Nakagami Masashi, Japan Ground Self-Defense

Sergeant First Class Nakagami Masashi, Japan Ground Self-Defense, 


Petty Officer 3rd Class Inoue Masayuki, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

Petty Officer 3rd Class Inoue Masayuki, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force,


Sergeant Garrett Rookstool, United State Marine Corp 

Sergeant Garrett Rookstool, United State Marine Corp


Staff Sergeant Joseph Franck, United States Air Force

Staff Sergeant Joseph Franck, United States Air Force


HM2 Queena Brosas, United States Navy 

HM2 Queena Brosas, United States Navy


SGT Phernis Fichuo, United States Army

SGT Phernis Fichuo, United States Army

“These service members represent the best of the best of their service and their country,” Phil VanEtten, USO Okinawa Area Director, said. “Their unselfish service helps to preserve peace and prosperity in this region. It is because of their service that citizens of both Japan and the United States can enjoy unprecedented freedoms. We could not miss these opportunities to thank them in 2020, no matter the challenging circumstances.”

During the Japan Self Defense ceremony Sergeant First Class Nakagami expressed to the audience of his peers and leadership how much this honor meant to him.

“The USO supports the heart and life of soldiers and their families,” Nakagami said. “The USO is a marvelous organization!! Thank you to all people who cooperated with my activities so far. I know there are things a person cannot do alone, but with the help of others, many great accomplishments can be made. I hope that in the future, we’ll continue to cooperate with the four branches of the U.S military to maintain a great relationship and together we can resolve difficult situations around the world. My dream is to make everyone who meets me smile. I think, smiles make peace. Smiles lead to peace.”

 “We’ve been waiting for today. Unfortunately, we cannot share in celebration with the Americans who received the same award.” Nakagami added. “And we cannot take advantage of this opportunity to promote relations between the US and Japan provided by the USO. But, I’m grateful for holding this wonderful ceremony under this situation of COVID-19.”
The 2020 honorees came from a wide array of backgrounds, but all demonstrated both dedication and strong character. 
Marine Sergeant Garrett Rookstool demonstrated his leadership by working as a Satellite Communications Operator with Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3d Marine Division, Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan. Due to his superior professionalism, the Commanding General, 3d Marine Division requested Rookstool by name to serve as his driver. The Marine Corps also recently selected him be a drill sergeant stationed in San Diego. 
According to his command, Rookstool epitomized the USO core values. He exemplified the concepts of “Mission First” and “Excellence” by consistently training nearly 100 Marines over the course of a year and ensuring their proficiency was of the highest degree. Accumulating over 50 hours of dedicated volunteer service, Sergeant Rookstool displayed the values of “Gratitude” and “Respect” for American and Okinawan communities. Sergeant Rookstool created an environment within his unit that upheld a high ethic of teamwork and ensured that himself, his peers, and his leadership accepted responsibility for group failures and praised individuals for their successes—through this, the values of “Collaboration” and “Accountability” were fostered within himself and within his unit.
 “It has been a journey to get where I am now, but an important aspect to remember is that you always have to be willing to adapt to new changes, personalities, and always seek the challenges in life (no matter how uncomfortable or hard) to be a successful individual and or leader,” Rookstool said in his acceptance speech. “My step-father once said, "to beat out the competition and allow growth you have to be willing to make the mistakes first, figuring it out and remembering it, will make you successful over others and give you the ability to teach them how to do it correctly so they become successful as well." Needless to say, it is the leaders in our lives and our ability to challenge ourselves that make us who we are.”
 
“While in the Marine Corps I have lived everyday remembering my three Ps; Purpose, Proficiency, and Prosperity. Living your life to the fullest by understanding what your purpose is. For me the purpose is just being a Marine, not a specific MOS or doing a specific task or goal, I just love being a Marine and the opportunities that come with it. One of which is leading and teaching others to success. Proficiency find your purpose and learn everything and anything that will make you as successful as possible with your it, and then don't stop learning and developing. Prosperity, the drive through proficiency will create success. This will bring joy and happiness into your life when you excel at your purpose. Creating that prosperity with each goal will in-turn allow for a drive towards the next goal! Your purpose in life is just that, YOURS. you pick, you make it happen. Another P to hold tightly is Passion; find what you love to do and cherish it, give passion to others no matter who and what or the way they treat you.”

Staff Sergeant Joseph Franck is the client system supervisor for the 390th Intelligence Squadron, 55th Wing, Kadena Air Base. His was honored by his leadership as they stated that he exemplified all the USO core values during his 632 hours of volunteer service to the USO. He believes in “Mission First” as demonstrated by the 51 hours he spent assisting 4,000 passengers with 276,000 pounds of cargo arriving on the Patriot Express. SSgt Franck upheld the values of “Collaboration” and “Gratitude” when he organized a USO Spring BBQ where 10 personnel prepared and served food to 300 service members. 

SSgt Franck displayed “Innovation” and deep “Respect” for local monks when he contributed 24 hours toward a Department of Defense cultural emersion event. Furthermore, he demonstrated “Accountability” and “Respect” as a USO representative when he worked the front desk, cleaned facilities, stocked, and inventoried items for 269 hours which supported DoD personnel and their families serving abroad.  Finally, he tirelessly demonstrated “Doing the Right Thing” and “Excellence” when he prepared and served food for DoD personnel during 12 events.   

HM2 Queena Brosas is a Field Medical Service Technician at Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, in MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. Her leadership stated that she has exemplified the USO core values through her selfless efforts to support others and communities. She embodies “Mission First” and “Collaboration” as demonstrated by her volunteerism in Sri Lanka, where she worked with local doctors to provided healthcare for 600 patients. Exemplifying “Gratitude” and “Respect,” she devoted 4 hours to a cross-cultural exchange with Indonesian college students. A model of “Innovation” and “Doing the Right Thing,” she served 42 hours as a choir member at MCAS Iwakuni Chapel and dedicated 15 hours at Vacation Bible School in support of 10 children. A Disaster Action Team member for MCAS Iwakuni Red Cross, she displayed true “Excellence” by preparing for natural disasters and operational mishaps. Always thinking of others, she displayed “Accountability” by continuing to volunteer at the MCAS Iwakuni USO and has log 26 hours, where she put together welcome package bags for service members and families. 

Sergeant Phernis Fichuo is a desk sergeant for the United States Army Garrison (USAG) Okinawa PMO and a team leader for the 247th Military Police Detachment here on Torii Station, Japan. His command nominated SGT Fichuo based on these eight USO core values in his daily life. He exemplifies dedication to the soldiers and unit by going above and beyond the normal responsibilities. His showed this dedication by sponsoring 10 newly arrived soldiers to Okinawa and ensuring they were taken care of during their relocation process. He built strong and mutually beneficial relationships by volunteering for the English Conversation Program hosted by the U.S. Consulate.  He led the Torii Station PMO School Crossing guard program and maintained the relationship with the local school, promoting safety and community support. He ensured that our host nation relationship with our Japanese Security Guards were tight knit by providing support and inclusion, which built esprit de corps and raised morale. He has served as a Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers (B.O.S.S.) representative conducting numerous fundraisers and as the Retention NCO was instrumental in the reenlistment process for four Soldiers and helping them progress their Army career. 

In recognition of your overall excellence, commitment, and unwavering dedication to duty, the USO Okinawa proudly honored these 2020 service members which could not have been possible without the support of the following sponsors: Delta Air Lines, AIG Insurance, University of Maryland Global Campus, MBC Internet and Cable TV, American Engineering Corporation, Billabong, Samurai Gate – Eight Co., Matson, and Domino’s.

For seventy-nine years, the USO has been providing morale, welfare, and recreational services to service members around the world. The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country, throughout their service to the nation. The USO is a nonprofit, charitable organization that relies on the generosity of individuals and corporations to support its programs and services. The USO currently operates more than 200 centers around the world, including seven on Okinawa; USO Schwab, USO Hansen, USO Kadena, USO Kadena Air Terminal, USO Foster, USO Futenma, and USO Kinser. The USO on Okinawa also offers outreach to other military installations. To find out more or donated to the USO, please check out Okinawa.USO.Org.

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