President Donald Trump’s guests at the State of the Union 2018 range from a boy who organized a national effort to place flowers and flags on veterans’ graves to the founder of the Cajun Navy 2016, which helped rescue people during the Hurricane Harvey flooding.
Trump’s list of SOTU 2018 guests is designed to highlight issues and causes he cares about, especially veterans, public servants, and small business owners who say his policies have helped them. The president is also highlighting families of children murdered by a largely immigrant gang, MS-13.
The guests will be sitting with First Lady Melania Trump during the State of the Union address, according to a news release from the White House, which also distributed photos of the guests on the official White House Facebook page. These are the guests:
“Corey Adams is a skilled welder at Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, Ohio, where he has worked for more than eight years,” The White House says. “During 2017, Corey and his wife were able to become first-time homeowners, and they will invest their extra money from tax reform into their two daughters’ education savings.”
Elizabeth Alvarado, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Cuevas
Both sets of parents lost daughters to the vicious MS-13 gang.
“Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens are the parents of Nisa Mickens. Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas are the parents of Kayla Cuevas,” the White House says.
“Nisa and Kayla had been close friends since elementary school, but in September 2016, the two girls were chased down and brutally murdered. Their deaths were among a string of 17 Long Island slayings that have been attributed to Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13.”
You can read more about the Long Island murders here:
Corporal (Ret.) Matthew Bradford
Bradford is one of the guests highlighting veterans’ issues. “Matthew Bradford joined the United States Marine Corps straight out of high school and deployed to Iraq in 2006,” the White House said. “In 2007, he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). Shrapnel shot into both of his eyes, blinding him, and the explosion also took both of his legs. After multiple surgeries and therapy, Matthew reenlisted in the Marine Corps—the first blind, double amputee to do so.”
Jon Bridgers founded the Cajun Navy 2016, “as a non-profit rescue and recovery organization to respond to flooding in south Louisiana,” according to the White House. “In 2017, the Cajun Navy set out to provide aid to those in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey. He and the Cajun Navy 2016 have helped thousands of people across the South, and to this day, they are helping collect resources and donations for those who lost their homes in the storms.”
You can read a profile on Bridgers here:
Like Bridgers, Dahlberg is a local hero who helped save people during a disaster: In this case, the California wildfires.
“David Dahlberg works as a fire prevention technician in southern California, stationed at the Pine Canyon Fire Station in the Santa Lucia Ranger District. In July 2017, he saved 62 children and staff members from a raging wildfire that had encircled their camp,” says the White House.
Officer Ryan Holets
Ryan Holets is a police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “In his six years on the force, he has been shot at twice and experienced several near-death encounters. Officer Holets and his wife adopted a baby from parents who suffered from opioid addiction, breaking down walls between drug addicts and police officers to help save lives,” says the White House.
Like many of the other guests, Ashlee Leppert has lived a life in service to others. She “has dedicated her life to her country, serving as an aviation electronics technician in the United States Coast Guard. Last year, she rescued dozens of Americans imperiled during the devastating hurricane season,” the White House says. “Nothing has left more of a mark on Ashlee than her efforts to lift a woman to safety in a helicopter basket. The woman was clutching a few bags of what Ashlee thought were clothes. As she drew the woman near, however, Ashlee saw four sets of children’s eyes looking at her as their guardian angel.”
Agent Celestino “CJ” Martinez
CJ Martinez’ inclusion at SOTU 2018 also has an immigration theme. He is a Supervisory Special Agent for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit. “He has spent much of his 15-year tenure working to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, including MS-13,” said the White House. “His investigations have led to more than 100 arrests of MS-13 gang members who have been prosecuted for crimes, including homicide, assault, and narcotics and weapons trafficking. CJ is a proud veteran, having honorably served our Nation in the United States Air Force and Air National Guard for more than 22 years.”
Staff Sergeant Justin Peck
Another veteran invitee, staff Sergeant Justin Peck served in the United States Army for eight years. In November 2017, “he was part of a team, along with Chief Petty Officer Kenton Stacy, that was conducting a multi-day mission with partner forces in Raqqa, Syria, to clear IEDs from territory previously controlled by ISIS,” says the White House.
“After the team had located and disarmed seven IEDs, Chief Petty Officer Stacy was clearing the second floor of a hospital building when he was struck by an IED blast and severely wounded. Without hesitation, Staff Sergeant Peck, who was holding a position outside the building, rushed to Stacy’s location on the uncleared, IED-ridden second floor. Staff Sergeant Peck’s actions—including applying a tourniquet, placing an endotracheal tube, and performing artificial respirations and CPR—were directly responsible for saving Chief Petty Officer Stacy’s life.”
Although he’s only 12, Preston Sharp is also devoted to veterans issues and public service. “Preston Sharp was visiting his veteran grandfather’s grave in 2015, when he noticed that other local veterans’ graves were not being honored with American flags or flowers,” says the White House.
“Today, Preston has organized the placement of more than 40,000 American flags and red carnations on soldiers’ graves, as part of his goal to honor veterans in all 50 States and to challenge others to join the Flag and Flower Challenge (#FandFChallenge).”
You can read more about Preston Sharp here:
Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger
Siblings Steve Staub and Sandy Kepingler “started Staub Manufacturing Solutions, a contract manufacturing company specializing in metal fabrication, twenty years ago,” says the White House. They represent the business owner contingent among Trump’s guests.
“Today, they serve as president and vice president, respectively. Thanks to the “Trump bump” in their business, Staub Manufacturing Solutions has seen an uptick in sales, employment, and optimism. They have grown their team from 23 to 37 employees over the last year and recently expanded by acquiring a new building. Following enactment of the tax cuts and reform legislation last year, they were able to give all their employees larger than expected Christmas bonuses.”