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USO gala to feature theme of 'Proud to be an American'

Date: 3/7/2012

March 7, 2012

By Lori Szepelak

HOLYOKE — Captain Richard Phillips, known as the "Hero of the High Seas," will be the keynote speaker for the second annual Pioneer Valley USO dinner dance gala on March 16.

The gala is planned at the Log Cabin on Easthampton Road, beginning with a cocktail hour at 6, followed by the dinner and program at 7. Proper attire is required.

The theme is "Proud to be an American," and will also feature heroes from each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces as well as top Pioneer Valley USO supporters, according to David Jubinville, president of the organization.

"Each honoree is selected by their branch commander to accept the award for their past commitment and outstanding services," Jubinville said during an interview with Reminder Publications.

Jubinville has been with the Pioneer Valley USO for seven years, with the last five years serving as president.

"I got involved with the USO shortly after my best friend passed away who was a lieutenant colonel in the Army," Jubinville said. "After his passing I needed to somehow have that connection of him and the military stay in my life and the USO was my answer."

Jubinville noted that being part of a worldwide organization enables him to give back and say thank you to the military men and women and their families as well as veterans.

"All of them put themselves in harm's way and dedicate so much to their country so that all of us have the ability to carry on with our daily lives each and every day giving us the ability to be free," he said.

Jubinville added that it doesn't matter if someone is for or against the war, "what is important is that while our men and women who have volunteered to protect our country, we can at least say thanks."

A highlight of the evening will be the address by Phillips who was captain of the Maersk Alabama when it was hijacked by Somali pirates in April 2009. Phillips will relive the international drama of being captured by pirates which was the first hijacking of a U.S. ship in more than 200 years. To protect his crew, Phillips made a conscious decision to put himself directly in harm's way, knowing that he might pay the ultimate price for his decision. Amid the standoff, he offered himself as a hostage.

Phillips, of Underhill, Vt., is a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, a member of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots Union, and a licensed American merchant mariner. He is married and has two children. He is the author of "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea."

Tickets are $45 per person which includes entertainment by the Western Massachusetts All Stars Band, led by Joe Pereira. Tickets are limited and must be purchased by March 14. For more information, call 557-3290 or visit Business sponsorships are also available.

The Pioneer Valley USO has a volunteer base of approximately 80 area residents, and anyone interested in getting involved with the organization can visit its website for more information.

"We have fund-raisers like this one to help support various activities including homecomings, deployments, holiday parties, holiday food baskets, care packages, as well as our food pantry at Westover Air Reserve Base," Jubinville said. "We are a mobile USO that allows us to reach out from the Berkshires to Worcester as well as supporting the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard."

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