Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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.
Catering to the young and modern crowd, Planet Hollywood is a one-stop shop for entertainment with its massive shopping mall, slew of restaurants, spacious casino and clubs.
The ambiance of the casino is retro-chic meets high-tech with black granite floors throughout and colorful LED lights throughout the space. The theme carries into the 100,000 square-foot casino with 250 flat screens topping off slot machines. The casino is also home to 87 tables, a sports book and a poker room.
There's also the Miracle Mile Shops, one Vegas' largest malls, with 140 stores including BCBG Max Azaria, bebe, Urban Outfitters and The Discovery Channel Store.
Following an afternoon of shopping, guests can satisfy their appetites at one of the gourmet restaurants in Planet Hollywood, like the non-traditional approach to steakhouses at Strip House or check out the exotic Far East motif at KOI restaurant and lounge. And if guests are still looking for more, they can spend the after hours at Privé, Triq or Krave nightclubs.
Perhaps one of the resorts biggest attractions came in March with the addition of "Peepshow." The naughty twist on the story of Little Bo Peep is modern-day spin on the run-of-the-mill Vegas topless review. The "Peepshow" stage has seen visiting celebs like Scary Spice Mel B, "Dancing with the Stars" Kelly Monaco and Playboy's Holly Madison.