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September 18, 2014

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USO Service Members of the Year Awards:

Military heroes walk the red carpet at movie premiere

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Denise Truscello/WireImage/DeniseTruscello.net

USO Coast Guardsman of the Year Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel A. Peikert, USO Airman of the Year Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Broyles, USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew “Chris” Munden and USO Marine of the Year Sgt. Andrew C. Seif pose for a photograph with their significant others and Justin Timberlake, center, at the “Runner, Runner” premiere at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Wednesday, 18, 2013. The service heroes, along with USO Soldier of the Year Sgt. Craig D. Warfle and USO National Guardsman of the Year Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Petersen, who were unable to attend the event, will all be honored at the 2013 USO Gala in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25, 2013.

Premiere of ‘Runner, Runner’ at Planet Hollywood

Justin Timberlake, center, with members of the USO at the world premiere of “Runner, Runner” at Planet Hollywood on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.
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For one night, four military heroes were brought behind celebrity lines and received star treatment at the world premiere of the movie “Runner, Runner” at Planet Hollywood.

Dressed in their finest suits, they walked the red carpet, confronted the gaggle of media and met movie stars Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck on Wednesday night. Only a few months prior, many of them had been in Afghanistan disarming improvised explosive devices without protection and saving lives while facing enemy fire.

None of them imagined that they’d find themselves meeting Timberlake at a movie premiere.

“It’s probably like the last thing you’d ever think of on enlistment day, like, ‘Gee, I bet I’ll one day end up at a Hollywood premiere,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Munden said. “It’s definitely the last thing I thought would ever happen being in the military.”

The men were among six military members selected as USO Service Member Honorees for their heroic acts within the previous calendar year. The USO honor is given to one junior-ranking enlisted man or below from each branch of the military; the six will be honored at an Oct. 25 gala in Washington, D.C.

The winners included a Coast Guardsman who, while on vacation, rescued a father and son who got swept off a 20-foot dam in San Marcos, Texas; an airman who enabled six wounded personnel to be rescued while under insurgents attack, and a Marine who saved a fellow Marine who had been shot.

“None of these men are out there pushing to get an award from the USO or anything like that,” said Gayle Fishel, USO director of media. “They were nominated and they were notified, and now it’s almost like, ‘Oh we’re like celebrities; it’s really neat.’”

Timberlake invited the soldiers to the movie premiere to thank them for their service. The soldiers were given VIP treatment, met a lot of the movie’s actors, and watched the gambling thriller.

The experience was surreal for Munden, who was named Sailor of the Year. Munden went to school in the heart of Hollywood at UCLA, so he was used to seeing movie premieres right next to campus.

He never thought his actions disarming more than 35 IEDs in southeastern Afghanistan would give him a ticket to the inside.

“The premiere was pretty cool. It was definitely a new experience for me to say the least,” Munden said. “It was overwhelming to see with all the press there and the cameras. It was very cool.”

Marine of the Year, Sgt. Andrew Seif, said he enjoyed meeting celebrities whom he had only ever seen on the screen. Events like this have slowly made him realize how much the honor means.

“It didn’t really sink in at first,” Seif said. “But since then, realizing the attention I got from it, it opened my eyes a little bit.”

At the end, the soldiers received a group picture with Timberlake, posing with a goofy grin front and center — a souvenir from their time behind celebrity lines.

This year’s USO Service Member of the Year honorees are: Seif; Munden; Staff Sgt. Christopher Broyles, Airman of the Year; Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel Peikert, Coast Guardsman of the Year; Sgt. Craig Warfle, Soldier of the Year; and Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen, National Guardsman of the Year.

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