Before the 2008 Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, Sgt. Hollett was stationed in Baghdad and worried about making his pledge goal of $2,300, since he can't solicit donations while in uniform. When e-mails to friends helped him reach his goal, it seemed like a miracle.
Newspaper photos of the Massachusetts Army National Guard 151st Regional Support Group receiving its Meritorious Unit Commendation show Sgt. Jeffrey Hollett's true colors. And, despite "the rather bad blond dye job in the picture,'' those colors are red, white and blue.
The story behind the photo also shows Hollett's true colors; a half-hour before the image was captured, his color was pink.
"It was day one and raining'' at the 2009 Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure walk in Boston. "I walked halfway to lunch (from the departure point in Framingham, Mass.) when I was ‘swept’ for the first time in four years,'' Hollett recalled.
The "sweep" vehicles used along the route of the three-day, 60-mile trek usually pick up walkers in distress and take them ahead.
“Instead of being swept to the next pit stop, I was swept all the way back to Framingham, where we began,” Hollett said.
His unit, charged with organizing the defense of Victory Base Complex in Baghdad from May 2007 to April 2008, was being honored at the same time as the walk for helping protect more than 50,000 soldiers and civilians in the 20-square-mile encampment.
"As I walked into the battalion headquarters, I received some rather strange looks. I was dressed in pink: wearing pink boots, sporting a pink ribbon cut into the back of my hair, and I had pink hair, to boot,” said Hollett. “Thirty minutes later, I had showered, a fellow soldier helped me shave the back of my head,'' and blond dye was applied to cover the pink.
After the ceremony at the Framingham Armory, the "Team Baghdad Breast Defense'' member rejoined the walk with yet another colorful story to tell.
Before the 2008 “3-Day,” he was stationed in Baghdad and worried about making his pledge goal of $2,300, since he can't solicit donations while in uniform. When e-mails to friends helped him reach his goal on time, it seemed like a miracle. Then his roommate turned up with a very special gift.
He and his soldiers were policing the area that had once been Saddam Hussein's personal golf range.
“Phil found a golf ball. It was a bit filthy, but when Phil cleaned it up some, it was actually a pink golf ball with a pink ribbon on it. I carry it inside my pink camouflage camelback on every walk,” said Hollett.
This year, Hollett found himself $300 short of the $2,300 each walker must raise, but he headed home from Kuwait anyway. When online message boards carried the news he was coming back from another deployment to do the fundraising walk, a team from New Hampshire that had surpassed its goal gave him the $300 he needed.
"You have to seriously wonder why a soldier returning from a war zone would want to spend three days walking 60 miles,'' said Hollett, who lost his younger sister, Kim, in 2006 when breast cancer metastasized to her bones and a brain tumor was discovered.
"A lot of my friends and family thought I was nuts, but when you meet women walking who have just undergone radiation treatments, seen bandages that are visible through sweat-soaked T-shirts, shared tears with a survivor who has fought the battle of a lifetime ... you can't compare my pain to the young girl who has lost her mother, and definitely not to those who are fighting the insidious disease.
"I've been criticized in the past for wearing my heart upon my sleeve, but now I wear it proudly,'' said the 47-year-old guardsman.
Hollett is currently deployed in Kuwait with the 164th Transportation Battalion. He plans to be back in pink for his sixth Boston 3-Day next year. He's also registered to walk in Tampa, Fla., next October.
But no matter how pink he gets, the 26-year member of the Massachusetts National Guard always carries his red, white and blue.
Julia Spitz can be reached at 508-626-3968 or at email@example.com.