U.S. Flags Salute Wounded Warrior Athletes
By Samantha L. Quigley
WASHINGTON, April 29, 2010 The American flags raised over five military installations don’t look any different from the one raised over the U.S. Capitol on any given day, but there is one distinct difference.
These flags will bear the well-wishes of servicemembers stationed around the world for injured soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and veterans competing in the inaugural Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., next month.
With the help of the Defense Media Activity and the USO, five American flags found their way to Afghanistan, Germany, Hawaii, Iraq and South Korea, where they were raised over military points of interest. One flew above the USS Arizona in Hawaii, and another over Korea’s demilitarized zone. A third was raised above Germany’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Flags flew over Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, and Joint Base Balad, Iraq, as well.
Each flag-raising was filmed and will be broadcast with special messages from deployed servicemembers during the Warrior Games opening ceremonies.
For one recipient of a flag, what began as a routine assignment to organize and film the flag-raising turned into much more, especially after he called the Landstuhl public affairs office and explained the project.
“Their response was overwhelming,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leigh Bellinger, who serves with Detachment 4, Air Force News Agency, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
The public affairs team in Germany organized a joint-service detail to raise and lower the flag. The detail practiced for more than an hour the day before the actual flag-raising, Bellinger said.
“It was the afternoon of the actual ceremony that it all hit home,” he said. “As I stood in front of those soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen talking about the flag and the Warrior Games, it hit me -- the importance of what we were doing. This was for our brothers and sisters taking part in the Warrior Games.”
Troops injured in overseas combat zones receive treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center before transport to stateside medical facilities. Landstuhl, therefore, “has special significance for every single wounded warrior taking part in the games,” Bellinger said. “More than likely, they passed through on their way back home from Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Carroll, the operations noncommissioned officer in charge for American Forces Network Afghanistan, said the request to fly an American flag wasn’t so unusual.
“Because we are in a combat zone, we are asked to fly lots of American flags for different reasons,” he said. “Each of them has meaning and importance for someone we don’t usually know. This one is unique, because it’s flown specifically for our brothers and sisters in arms and in honor of the sacrifice they have made, some of them here in Afghanistan.”
Carroll asked soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division if they’d be willing to participate in the ceremony to raise this special flag.
“Not only did they want to do it, but because they are the 82nd, they wanted to do it big,” Carroll said. “They had no issue finding servicemembers to help out with the flag raising … because of the significance of the event. They also wanted to have a formation spelling out ‘USO’ to thank everyone for their dedication to the Warrior Games.”
Carroll had a message for the athletes participating in the Warrior Games, as well.
“I would say to them, regardless of what branch of service they are in, they are heroes to us all,” he said. “I want to wish all the warriors good luck, but I want to especially say, ‘Go Army!’”
Bellinger offered the warrior athletes his best wishes, in the form of “a slow, sharp salute for all my brothers and sisters taking part.”
Nicholas Tovo, DMA’s Hawaii bureau chief, enlisted the help of two wounded warriors who will participate in the Warrior Games to raise the flag over the USS Arizona. Tovo offered a special thanks to everyone who made the flag-raising a success.
“I especially want to thank the servicemembers for participating and everything they have done, and will do, to support our country,” he said.
Once the five flags are back in the United States, members of the Rolling Thunder motorcyclist’s organization will transport them to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in time for the Warrior Games opening ceremonies, scheduled for May 10.
Rolling Thunder works to draw attention to prisoner-of-war and missing-in-action issues and veterans causes. The ride will begin May 5 at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City, with stops at the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., to honor all 9/11 victims.
The Warrior Games begin May 10 and continue through May 14.