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Veteran and motivational speaker J.R. Martinez honored at last night’s Heroes Gala Photo: Brad Barket/PictureGroup

You’ve seen the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) commercials: They’re the ones on TV and on Hulu where a young man returns home from war and is greeted with empty streets reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic Roland Emmerich movie. Suddenly, another man in camo comes out to a street corner and shakes the man’s hand. IAVA’s slogan for 2009? “We’ve Got Your Back.”

And got your back they do: In 2008, Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq veteran and founder of IAVA, lobbied Congress to pass the G.I Bill which ensures affordable college education to all veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. This year, the IAVA is also working to increase health care coverage of veterans by $4.5 billion.

The stars were out last night at New York’s Gotham Hall for the third annual Heroes Gala of the D.C. grassroots lobby group, but nobody was looking at the celebrities. Instead, the real stars of the evening were the servicemen and women themselves, who populated the non-profit, non-partisan event hosted by Brian Williams, as well as Rieckhoff, MTV‘s Van Toffler and veteran-cum-actor-cum-motivational spokesman J.R. Martinez, who delivered the night’s most moving speech after being awarded for his courageous service for veterans.

More photos from the night after the jump

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