Army Staff Sgt. William (Bill) Wary, 26, of Stroudsburg is in training for the Steamtown Marathon on Oct. 10. He is combining his love of running with his love of country and a desire to give back to an organization that he has come to respect and appreciate – Operation: Touch of Home (OTOH.)
Operation: Touch of Home, based in Gilbert, is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that sends essentials and comforts to local military men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wary has been deployed to Iraq three times, '04-'05, '06-'07 and '09-'10, for a total of 37 months. He received 10 packages each time from Operation: Touch of Home, which he shared with others in his company of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York.
"When I get the care packages from Operation: Touch of Home, it's kind of like Christmas comes early because you've got normally something that you don't know what is in them" says Wary. "My mother does a very good job of keeping me stocked up on goodies you don't normally get overseas but there's such a wide variety of foods, you can't possibly remember everything you might want to eat. When we're sitting around opening these boxes, you'll see something you hadn't seen or thought about for however many months you've been there and its actually exciting to see a bag of Doritos or something."
Wary was born in Fort Rucker, Alabama, where his father, also in the Army, was stationed. He attended two high schools, one in Wiesbaden, Germany, and then Stroudsburg, from where he graduated. He joined the United States Army after finishing high school in 2002.
"All three of my deployments I consider to be voluntary because I volunteered to join the Army, knowing full well what could potentially happen," he says. "I didn't go out of my way to be in units that were scheduled to go to Iraq. My unit just always happened to be on the schedule to go. Most brigades and divisions in the Army deploy regularly but our brigade has been a step above them, being one of the most deployed in the Army."
He says he owes the Army for getting him started in running.
"We do a good bit of running but usually nothing more that six miles at a time. I started running longer distances this past deployment and decided I wanted to run a marathon," he says.
His one buddy, Eric, was always doing charity events, mostly for wounded warriors. He began thinking it was time for him to do something nice for someone else.
"I had just received a few boxes for Easter from Operation: Touch of Home, which put them in the front of my mind. I got to looking at it and found that last year they mailed more than 19,000 pounds worth of stuff overseas. I don't have the slightest clue how much it costs to mail that much weight but it can't be cheap. All their money is donated. Because of their support over the years, I felt it was time to give back to them. I'm hoping to raise at least $1,000 for them by running in the Steamtown Marathon," he says.
Wary enjoys running because he believes he's naturally built for it and thinks he's pretty decent at it, adding that it's a low-cost way to stay in shape.
"I've looked into cycling. I'll probably get into that eventually but a decent pair of running shoes is about $60-$100. A decent road bike will start around $300," he says.
He loves being out on the road running.
"To me it's a way to relieve stress and I also get a good bit of thinking done when I'm out as well," he says.
Currently he's taking classes at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, NY, working toward a Bachelor's degree in Information Systems Management.
"Sometimes I'll get stuck on something I'm working on, like for English class," he says. "I'll set it aside, put on some shorts and shoes and go for a jog. Even without actively thinking about it while running, something will come to me and I'll come back and finish whatever it was I was working on."
This will be his first 26.2 mile marathon. At first he thought he wanted to run the Denver Marathon because he had never seen Colorado or the Rockies.
"Then I realized the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton was the following weekend and I figured it to be more practical since it is closer to home and I wouldn't have to worry about running in thinner air," he says.
He will be running the Steamtown Marathon with his battle buddy, Sgt. Jeremy Lusk of Florida, who is still stationed in Iraq, serving his third tour of duty and also a recipient of care packages from OTOH.
Wary was asked what Iraq is like.
"Imagine everything surrounding you being tan in color, absolutely no green anywhere," he says. "The sun is constantly beating down on you in the summertime and the wind feels like an invisible guy is walking in front of you with a hair dryer pointed at your face The wind carries absolutely no relief on a hot day like it does here.
"The winters are even more miserable. It does get cold but not cold enough to freeze anything. It rains a good bit, turning the sand into an icky muddy clay that gets everywhere. After a short walk to the chow hall, your boots are a good couple of pounds heavier because of all the mud that's caked on them."
He and his running buddy, Lusk, trained in triple digit heat on unpaved roads after long work hours.
"I don't miss any of that at all!" he says.
Currently, he is following a seven-day training schedule whereby he runs four days a week, cycles two and jump trains one day. In between he lifts weights.
Wary is asking for $13 per donation, which equates to 50 cents a mile, but will be very appreciative of any amount donated. You can make that donation to: Operation: Touch of Home, P.O. Box 162, Brodheadsville, PA 18322. Contributions are 100 percent tax deductible and 100 percent of every donation received is used in support of American troops serving in harms way. You can contact someone through email, email@example.com or Bill Marks at 570-977-1724.
OTOH representative Maria Bentzoni was contacted by Wary through OTOH's Facebook page.
"I was shocked to read his email," he says. "We get 'thank you's' from our military men and women, but we have never received anything like what Bill suggested. We are grateful to him for wanting to pay it forward in such an amazing way. We are so proud of him and we'll be cheering him on."
He'll probably receive another care package from OTOH early next year when he will be deployed again, this time to Afghanistan.
"I just want to help other deployed soldiers receive the same support I did from OTOH," says Wary.