It had all the fanfare of the coveted Oscars gala as Hollywood actors walked the red carpet at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., during the opening moments of the third annual Vettys awards Jan. 20.
Hosted jointly by the Academy of United States Veterans (AUSV), Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes and Paralyzed Veterans of America, the real stars of the gala received five-star treatment on the carpet, as they would later be honored.
The annual event recognizes individuals and organizations that have demonstrated relentless dedication and selfless service to the veteran community and their families.
Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, opened the event with remarks. Presenters included former Army Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer; TV personality Montel Williams, Shohreh Aghdashloo of Syfy’s “The Expanse”; Anne Heche, Mike Vogel and Sophia Pernas of the hit NBC series “The Brave”; and Matt Barr of CW’s “Valor.” Other VIP guests in attendance included Chief of Staff General John F. Kelly, Jack Scalia, Colton T. Smith, Kristin Beck, and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
The honorees included: Carol Borden, founder and CEO of Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc., Dustin Perkins, director of marketing with Student Veterans of America, Bunker Labs; Community: National Veterans Legal Services Program; Honorary: Steven D. Vincent, senior business development manager of The Informatics Applications Group Inc. and George A. Chewning II, director of governmental affairs of Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation; Leadership Award recipient: Sarah Verado, executive director, The Independence Fund.
During the red carpet opening, officiates, guest actor presenters and honorees engaged the media to express candid thoughts of appreciation for the recognition.
For event host, Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and host of “The Lead” and “State of the Union,” spoke candidly about the opportunity.
“Being a part of the ‘newish’ program to honor veterans and veterans groups and bring some attention to their needs beyond election years and long beyond scandals is a tremendous honor,” Tapper said. “This is my first time hosting this event and it’s a great honor. Veterans are a group that I try to pay attention to on my show; they’re a group I try to pay attention in my life. I wrote a book about Afghanistan to tell the stories of these men and women — not just the troops, but also their family members at home. To be able to take time to spend an evening with them is all the more meaningful.”
Tapper was surprised with the Veterans Choice Award, a surprise honor, which was chosen based on his relentless dedication and selfless service to the veteran community and their families.
“My father was a Korean War veteran and my son has done three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Borden said. “This is my way of serving.”
Borden not only trains the dogs and oversees operations, but also travels around the country teaching people about the importance of service dogs.
“I teach them why they’re different and why from emotional support dogs or companion animals. Each of these dogs cost us about $25,000 to take them from start to finish and we donate them to our veterans that have combat injuries,” said Borden, who started the nonprofit in 2010.
“It’s pretty exciting to be nominated. It’s quite an honor. When I first heard that I was nominated it felt surreal and almost overwhelming. I’m just glad it can bring life back to our organization by being in the spotlight and what we do for veterans,” Perkins said.
He noted the organization helps veterans transition when they come out of the military, figuring out how they continued they education in school, career fairs, job search to help, because it’s rough we you get out,” said Perkins, an Army veteran. “It’s all about networking. As a student I went through this program and because of the jobs I received, plus who I met along the way helped me.”
“I’m just honored to asked,” Barr said. “I make a living pretending to do what the real men and women in the military do. I’ve had a chance to interact with a lot of them in the past year and I have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for them. I feel like I’m on the outside looking in, but I’m glad to kind of play my part in honoring them.”
Proud of his Navy and Marine roots, actor, TV personality and long time military advocate Williams, expressed his thoughts about being a presenter.
“I had 22 years in both the Navy and Marine Corps. I’m proud and honored to be here and I really wanted to make sure I got out to participate and recognize those who’ve done so much for the least of us. I believe this is the most important event going on in the country today,” Williams said.
According to Assal Ravandi, president and CEO of the Academy of United States Veterans, “As veterans, we often come back with more than just memories of war, and as Americans, we all struggle with trials and tribulations of life. Nonetheless, we push through and overcome by perseverance and dedication. We, as a nation, have failed our Vietnam veterans to whom we owe a great debt. Our mission is to reflect on history and ensure that no veteran feels invisible or forgotten.”
The honorees were presented with a coveted Vetty statuette, custom-designed bronzed military boot placed on a sturdy base that signifies the boots on the ground work by the veterans service organizations. The base of the Vettys statuette represents such organizations and individuals that demonstrate a strong foundation.