USO of Pioneer Valley Shows Solidarity with Troops in Afghanistan

From left, Brian Willette, Dick Burgess, Jim Bouchard, Steve Jimmo and Kevin Willette walk during the USO of Pioneer Valley's USO Pat Tillman Center 5K Shadow Run on April 21 on Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. Photo courtesy of Brian Willette

From left, Brian Willette, Dick Burgess, Jim Bouchard, Steve Jimmo and Kevin Willette walk during the USO of Pioneer Valley’s USO Pat Tillman Center 5K Shadow Run on April 21 at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. Photos courtesy of Brian Willette

Brian Willette was curious what was going on at Bagram Air Base.

It’s not something you’ll hear from many Americans these days, with the perception that the wars in the Middle East have all but wrapped up. But Willette isn’t exactly from a normal American family. A veteran of the Afghan War, the USO of Pioneer Valley board member was wounded by an improvised explosive device Sept. 13, 2010, in Afghanistan. He spent a week at Bagram recovering from TBI and “a lot more time,” as he describes it, at the USO Pat Tillman Center.

Nearly seven months after the retired Army staff sergeant was hurt, his son, then-Army Spec. Kevin Willette, was wounded in the same country. His daughter, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christine Luppachino, volunteered for the USO during her 2009 deployment to Iraq.

So when the patriarch of a family with strong ties to a region eight time zones away heard there was a 5K race at Bagram on April 21, he snapped into action.

“My concept was to ‘stand with Bagram by running with Bagram’” Brian Willette wrote in a recent email about the shadow 5K that USO of Pioneer Valley put on April 21 at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.

USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinvile runs during the 5K.

USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinville runs during the shadow 5K on April 21.

He credited USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinville and fellow board member and Air Force veteran Dan Ernst for their support in jumpstarting the event, which demonstrated “our support for deployed troops, USO overseas centers, Pat Tillman as well as all of our fallen comrades.”

The 5K attracted local veterans groups including Fairview American Legion Post 438, VFW Hampden District 7 and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Western Massachusetts Chapter 875. Active-duty and reserve personnel assigned to Westover also ran in the event.

–Story by USO Story Development