By PO2 Christopher Murray
USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) Public Affairs

A Sailor assigned to amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) has been chosen as the Navy's recipient for the USO's George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Cundiff, of Louisville, Kentucky, will receive the award based upon his actions the evening of Oct. 8, in which he served as master helmsman and maneuvered the 40,000-ton ship - and the 1,600 Sailors and Marines aboard - safely through the Chesapeake Bay waters during a period of high winds and seas.

The efforts of Cundiff and the rest of Iwo Jima's bridge team that evening helped the ship assist more than 100,000 Haitians in need as part of Joint Task Force Matthew.

"It's an honor to represent the command and the Navy in receiving this significant award," said Cundiff. "Originally, the harbor pilot suggested the ship stay at anchor overnight and push out to sea in the morning, but the captain trusted me and my team completely so we went on to conduct our mission."

"One of the factors in my decision to get underway was the amount of confidence that I had in Petty Officer Cundiff and the other members of the Iwo Jima's bridge watch team," said Capt. James Midkiff, Iwo Jima's commanding officer. 

Because of Cundiff's expertise and the skill of the ship's bridge team that evening, Iwo Jima arrived off the coast of Haiti safely and was able to deliver aid to many remote areas which had not received assistance since before the storm hit. 

"This is what the Navy is," said Cundiff. "When I joined, it was just about getting out of Kentucky. Now it's the pride I get out of doing what I do, of putting the uniform on."

Only one service member from each branch of the armed forces receives the award each year, which Cundiff will receive at the USO's annual Armed Forces Gala in New York, Dec. 13.

The USO George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award is given to service members who, through their selfless commitment to country, inspire others and uplift the spirits of their comrades, their families, and the American people.