• Wilfredo Villalba, poses with the Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade launcher being donated to the museum at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.

    RPG launcher donation

    Wilfredo Villalba, poses with the Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade launcher being donated to the museum at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.

  • Wilfredo Villalba, poses with the Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade launcher being donated to the museum at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.

    Wilfredo Villalba

    Wilfredo Villalba, poses with the Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade launcher being donated to the museum at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - A unique historical artifact is on its way to join the Army\'s premier small arms collection thanks to a chance encounter, and the determination of one man. The item, a Russian-made, Iraqi-used, rocket-propelled grenade launcher, is headed to the museum at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. The museum plans to host a ceremony at which the Army Sustainment Command will present the weapon on behalf of the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade, headquartered at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. It all started when Wilfredo Villalba, a supply specialist with the 402nd AFSB, ran into an old friend from Airborne School at a dining facility here in Feb. 2009. The two had attended jump school together as young junior enlisted Soldiers in 1997, and had been in touch only occasionally over the years. Running into one another in Iraq came as a complete surprise to both of them. After catching up on things, Wil's friend, Agustin Quinones, who is now a captain at Fort Hood, Texas, explained that he had been presented with an RPG launcher from an Iraqi Army officer as a gift. Unfortunately, however, his unit was preparing to leave Iraq and he was unable to take it back with him. Recognizing the historical value of the item, Wil took possession of the weapon hoping it could, somehow, be put on exhibit somewhere back home as a remembrance of those who have served in Iraq. "He [Quinones] did not have the time to submit all of the documents to request permission to ship the RPG home, so that is why I stepped forward to continue the mission," said Villalba, who served in Iraq with the 402nd AFSB for six years. "It is very important to me that this RPG launcher goes somewhere where it can be appreciated and can represent the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade, and all of the service members and civilians who have served in Iraq. It will remind people about the dedication and sacrifice of all of the people who have stepped forward to serve their country in Iraq." Wil, who hails from a small town in Puerto Rico, wanted to donate the launcher to his adopted hometown of Bethlehem, Pa., so he contacted Galen Putnam, 402nd AFSB Public Affairs officer, for assistance. Initial contacts with the city appeared positive, but things gradually fizzled out. After hitting that roadblock, Putnam, who is deployed from the ASC Public Affairs Office, suggested they try the museum at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. Besides complimenting the museum's expansive small-arms collection, the Arsenal is also home to Army Sustainment Command, the 402nd AFSB's parent command. "I am familiar with the Rock Island Arsenal Museum's collection, so I thought this would be a good fit," Putnam said. "In addition, it is appropriate to have an item representing the 402nd AFSB at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum since our higher headquarters, the Army Sustainment Command, is also located at the Arsenal." Rick Murphy, 402nd AFSB legal advisor who also deployed from ASC, stepped-in to assist with negotiating the extensive paperwork trail. After getting things started, Murphy handed things off to his replacement, Lou Aldini, yet another 402nd AFSB member from ASC, who doggedly fought his way through the bureaucratic maze. "It took seven months, but it's finally on its way," he said. "Wil really deserves credit for making this happen. He was bound and determined to get this weapon to a collection where it can be enjoyed by others and represent the 402nd AFSB and those who have served in Iraq." Villalba was elated when notified by e-mail that the artifact is on its way to the RIA Museum. "OMG - I will be very happy to fly there to be part of that ceremony. It is very important to me," he," he responded. The U.S. Army Garrison - Rock Island Arsenal Public Affairs Office will announce details regarding the presentation ceremony at a later date. You can visit the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, the Army's second oldest museum, at: http://riamwr.com/museum.htm

Page last updated Tue March 15th, 2011 at 01:46