- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 13 members of the U.S. armed forces from Montgomery County have been killed in the resulting war on terror. Five died in Operation Enduring Freedom and eight in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the county’s Commission on Veterans Affairs.

To commemorate their lives and the sacrifices of the families who have had an active-duty soldier killed in action, Bubba’s Belly Run will be held Sunday at the Bullis School in Potomac. The 5K Run and the noncompetitive Maternity Walk and Fun Run are for military families who have a fallen hero, expectant mothers and the whole family. “It is for the community,” said Nicki Bunting, the event’s organizer and a war widow.

Her husband, Army Capt. Brian “Bubba” Bunting, 29, from Rockville, was mortally wounded along with three other soldiers on Feb. 24 when an improvised explosive device detonated under his Humvee while he was on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He had been home enjoying rest and relaxation with his family just days before.

A week after receiving notification of his death, Mrs. Bunting found something to celebrate with friends and family: A pregnancy test revealed that their first son, Connor, could expect a sibling. The couple already had decided on a name for their next boy, Cooper Coleman.

Bubba’s last wish came true,” said Mrs. Bunting, who, with her sisters, called every family member she could think of even though it was after midnight. She was too excited to wait for the next morning to tell them.

Brian Bunting was nicknamed Bubba when he was brought home from the hospital as a newborn and his older brother, Bobby, didn’t think his baby brother was very attractive. He said the baby looked like a Bubba, and the name stuck.

Mrs. Bunting said she and her husband were very close. “We got each other. We could finish each other’s sentences. We knew what each other was thinking.” She said she and Brian Bunting caught each other’s attention while attending the Bullis School. They married on Sept. 23, 2006.

Capt. Bunting was a star athlete at Bullis. He then attended the U.S. Military Academy, where he played intercollegiate lacrosse and intramural football. Upon graduation from West Point, he was commissioned in the Army.

On Oct. 17, Capt. Bunting will be inducted posthumously into the Bullis School’s Athletic Hall of Fame, after being nominated in previous years.

On the playing field, his colleagues said, he displayed military-style discipline and leadership.

“He would come into the huddle after just a few plays on the football and lacrosse fields, knowing exactly what adjustments needed to be made to find success. He saw the entire field of play. He was our general. He was a thinking-man’s athlete, with the physical skills to carry out his own orders,” said John Simpson, a member of the Bullis class of 1998 and one of Capt. Bunting’s best friends. Mr. Simpson was the best man at the Buntings’ wedding; he later delivered the eulogy for his friend.

Bubba’s legacy is an inspiration for our students and represents the best that is Bullis. He excelled as a student, an athlete and a leader,” said Joanne Szadkowski, the school’s director of development and alumni relations. “Few students have the honor of being chosen class president for their entire high school career, but Bubba’s personality and leadership made him an obvious choice among his classmates. Bubba participated and gave his all to everything he did, including playing 12 varsity seasons and excelling in football and wrestling. Most of all, Bubba brought his smile, warmth and friendship to everyone at Bullis and beyond.” He was named to the all-metropolitan football team and was a state champion in wrestling.

Beneficiaries of Bubba’s Belly Run include nonprofit organizations such as the Fisher House, which provides free or low-cost lodging to veterans and military families receiving treatment at military medical facilities; the American Widow Project, established by 23-year-old Taryn Davis of Texas in 2007 - after her husband was killed in action - to connect young war widows, now numbering 500 members; and Flat Daddies, which provides life-size cardboard cutouts of soldiers.

“Connor did not forget his daddy,” she said. An unknown sponsor paid for Capt. Bunting’s Flat Daddy. In addition, Connor keeps the memory of his father alive with videos Capt. Bunting made reading Little Golden Books such as “I’m a Truck” and “We Help Daddy.” Capt. Bunting made videos on deployment in addition to those he made while stateside.

“When Connor saw him in the airport, he ran up to him and hugged Bubba. Connor was squeezing so hard. He wouldn’t let go,” Mrs. Bunting said.

Mrs. Bunting still has her husband’s Flat Daddy cutout in the house. She said sometimes it can be “eerie when he is sitting in the chair.” Yet she knows it continues to help Connor remember his heroic father.

One-fourth of the funds generated from the race will be designated for a college fund for Connor and the soon-to-arrive Cooper.

More than 400 entrants have registered for the race.

To honor Capt. Bunting’s memory and provide support for his family, Bullis is providing its campus and athletic facilities, including the stadium and cross-country course for the event, Miss Szadkowski said.

Bubba’s Belly Run will be a day of family-oriented fun and a day to remember my husband, the amazing life he led, and the men and women who serve our country,” Mrs. Bunting said. “The long-term goal is to make this an annual event that the community can look forward to.”

Bubba’s legacy is the embodiment of the simple, yet fundamental, priorities in life: family, country, community, faith. He tended to those priorities with a sense of service, discipline, integrity and of course laughter. He was a model of what it is to be a man,” Mr. Simpson said.

“All Gold Star families feel the same way. You don’t see any Gold Star families complaining. We want our soldiers back, but that can’t happen. We raise our families to always remember and love who we have lost, because that is what our soldiers expect of us,” Mrs. Bunting said.

For more information on the race visit: www.bubbasbellyrun.com.

John Muller is a freelance writer living in Montgomery County. His brother is a Marine, and his father is a retired Marine.

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