O'er the Land of the Free

We've built a tradition -- I'm not sure who started it -- of hanging the Stars and Stripes aboard Operation Iraqi Freedom aircraft. Once the flags complete their missions, many of us like to send them to loved ones at home. I have given them to people who have sent me care packages or given me support during the seven months I've been in Iraq. It is reminiscent of the program that allows citizens to procure an American flag that once flew over the Capitol in Washington. We do it to say, "We're thinking of you while we're over here!"

We buy embroidered, 3-by-5-foot U.S. flags at the Exchange if there are any in stock (the popularity of the tradition can make them difficult to obtain). Unpacking a new flag and hanging it across the back wall of the aircraft, securing it against the violent wind with safety pins and carabiners, has become part of our preflight routine, along with regular inspections, setting up our gear, and laying out our helmets, gloves and checklists.

During the flight, the flag hangs in front of the aft-facing passengers. We log the locations the flag is flown as we travel from place to place. Once the mission is over, I gather the crew and ask a bystander to take our photo with the flag, then the crew then helps me fold it.

After work, I upload the photos, pick the best one, and add a few key bits of information, such as the date, locations and names of the crew, to the surface with Photoshop. I also include images of our unit patches for a personal touch. I then upload the images to Shutterfly and order an 8-by-10. Others use a template certificate without the photo printed on card stock.

Several days later, the print arrives in the mail, hopefully intact. I ask the crew members from the particular flight to sign the picture with a permanent marker. Using notes I wrote on the flag's box the day of the flight, I match the right flag to the appropriate photo. The finished product, with a card, goes onto a stack for the next time I go to the post office. Once there, I seal the package after the customs inspectors look it over.

It's a unique material item we can give, legally, to friends and family to tell them, "Thank you!"

By Bert Stover |  September 28, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Al Taqaddum, Iraq
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Nice idea. Hopefully some folks will send you a care package of flags to spare you the expense- school teachers and the military are not paid enough for what they do.

Thank you for your service

Posted by: ex Army | September 28, 2006 09:37 AM

I think it was George W. Bush who started that tradition, on that Aircraft Carrier a couple of years back. I believe it had a poster next to it saying "Mission Accomplished"

Posted by: dave | September 28, 2006 10:48 AM

Thanks, Bert...

For the obvious, your service to your country; but also for taking on the time and effort and expense to let people over here know you're thinking of them... We go about our lives, those of us without a soldier serving overseas, and shamefully sometimes the war is a background and nothing more. I hope others see your actions for what they are... selfless and inspiring. It is certainly those of us here at home who should be spending time and effort to support our troops, not the other way around. Thank you for this reminder, on an otherwise ordinary day, that extraordinary things are happening half-way around the world, and we cannot forget the continued sacrifices made every day by our armed forces and their families.

Posted by: former Army brat | September 28, 2006 11:39 AM

I would love to get you some flages,how do we get them to you? My BSA troop would love to help .Stay safe and God bless you

Posted by: jim | September 28, 2006 12:12 PM

What a wonderful thing for y'all to do for friends and also for some whom you only know via the net. I always look forward to your posting .
Keep the shiney side up God bless & keep you safe!

Posted by: Bill J` | October 1, 2006 06:47 AM

It is not a bit meaningless to the people who are there. The flags that we send back mean a lot to the people who get them. I for one don't want to see the flag draped coffins paraded through the liberal media. Just what the hell would that prove anyway. The last time I checked, soldiers fight wars, not suits from any party that come from Washington. So, Verdant, your comment is noted, disregarded as idiotic, and dismissed. War dead should be something that makes us all sad, but not a topic to use making some inane point. The nature of this war is becoming clear to everyone anyway, so kindly let Bert tell us about his unit's flags. To dave, well, you know how I feel about you. You need two signs. The first should say "I want to be a spiteful, hate filled, suedo-liberal". The other, larger sign could then say "mission acomplished". You should be commenting on the fine job your Canadian soldiers are doing with NATO. Semper Fi and meow

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 1, 2006 10:31 AM

I, too, honor the service of all our men and women in uniform who are risking their lives for the principles symbolized in our flag.

Isn't it ironic, though, that the Bush administration would not allow photos of flag-draped coffins returning from war zones?

It saddens me every week to learn of the dozens of service men and women KIA, sacrificing their young lives in now meaningless conflicts.

Note that the Bush Twins will never return to the States in body bags. Too, war hawks like Dennis Hastert, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and other Administration and Republican Congress figures never offered up themselves for ultimate sacrifices....

Posted by: VERDANT44 | October 1, 2006 11:58 AM

My son arrived home from Al Asad, Iraq on Sept. 21....he had a flag flown at Al Asad on his birthday for his father/I w/a certificate....it was a very meaningful gift...he also had one flown for his Grandmother and will save it for Christmas! It is wonderful to have him home, but I don't want to forget about those of you who are still there!! I will continue to pray for you/your group and will continue to read your site....thank you for continuing to update...may you feel God's presence with you!!

Posted by: Mechanic's Mom | October 1, 2006 04:13 PM

ooooh, CW2Hill, looks like i touched on a sensitive topic.

If it hurts so, it must be true

Posted by: dave | October 2, 2006 01:20 PM

Yes, dave, the part about you being a spiteful, hate filled, "pretend" liberal. Yep, all true. The rest of my comment was directed elsewhere. Hit a nerve? I imagine you do a lot of that to many people. Your smart a** comments grate on many readers nerves. Read the post more carefully next time. It is people like you who have led to a loss of readership on this blog.

Posted by: cw2 hill | October 2, 2006 04:19 PM

dave, you are so stupid and ignorant. I just laugh at you when you write something as do most others. We all see your stupidity. Those who matter know what is important. Face it dave, you don't matter.

Posted by: barbi | October 2, 2006 07:11 PM

Dave, You must choose when to use your comments wisely. This is not the arena to play politics. Choose another one. Otherwise, you will be dismissed as a dumb a** in short order. This comments applies to areas of life. Bomb throwers are not appreciated and, if right, are not given any credit for trying to change stuff that matters.

Posted by: Chuck | October 3, 2006 08:45 AM

if i didnt matter, then why do you care?

c'mon barbi and Hill, hoist a flag, suit up and go help your comrades. Cuz your 'leadership' there in the US sure aint

Posted by: dave | October 3, 2006 10:16 AM

Bert titled this post "O'er the Land of the Free." Is there a message here? Remember if the terrorists win, the "land of the free" will be a memory. Let's take our Canadian buddy dave for an example. If the so-called Caliphate is re-established and Shar'ia law prevails the first thing ole dave is going to lose is his freedom of expression (and if he quibbles about it, his life will be next). Those are the stakes Bert and his mates in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting for.

Posted by: djbundy | October 3, 2006 10:48 AM

djbundy, anyone who isnt a Bush sycophant knows that the US going into Iraq has/had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on sept 11.

As we all know, your Iraq campaign is serving as a recruiting tool for the terrorists and among the victims are people like Bert, and their families who do the dirty work for Americans who think they know whats best for everybody

my man, the terrorists are winning if americans thnk whats going on right now in Iraq is good for freedom/the world

OBL would be proud of you for trying to scare people about "re-establishing a Caliphate"

Posted by: dave | October 3, 2006 11:35 AM

Dave, it does not matter what you think. Our military members are there fighting for freedom. The least you could do is support the troops. Why don't you volunteer to go -- oops, I don't think there is a branch of the service that would accept you and personally, I don't think you could make it through boot camp.

Stay safe Bert. What a great idea with the flag.

Posted by: Linda | October 3, 2006 06:11 PM

The writer, dave, is getting that little quote from the enemy, directly. What do you want the President to do dave? Cut and run, whatever. That would amplify the mistake tenfold. If it takes 250,000 troops and years to rectify this nightmare, then that is what should be done. Just leaving is not really an option any longer. The enemy will smell blood and weakness (like Somalia when we cut and run). As far as me "suiting up", pay attention. CW2 is a miltary rank, and I have worn the suit for many years. Was Iraq involved in 9-11, nope, not at all as best we can tell. Was Saddam a terrorist thug? yep, sure was. He will be dead soon, and this war was coming eventually. Did we need it now? Probably not, but we will let history judge the eventual result. I, for one, can't wait to see how the liberals handle the problem when they soon get the chance. They will blame their failures on Bush I suppose. They are like a broken record. They will soon get the chance to lead this country, that much is very clear at this point. You started this thread with your flag/mission acomplished bash. And I respond to your nonsense because it amuses me to do so, but you really don't matter. None of you bleating sheep do. You should be proud of your Canadian soldiers killing Taliban, they are very good at what they do.

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 3, 2006 06:21 PM

Oh yeah, ask a Kurd if Saddam being gone is a good thing. You better not, don't ask a Marsh Arab either. They will spoil a bit of your argument there dave.

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 3, 2006 06:22 PM

Dave, Dave, Dave. How ignorant you are. I did suit up, I did hoist the flag and I did serve my country proudly. And I have the utmost respect for every person in uniform on this earth who has the guts to fight for freedom and peace. But Dave, people like you......I have no respect for. Bert, tell the guys hi and we send our love and support. Dave, shut the hell up because you don't know the meaning of respect and honor.

Posted by: barbi | October 3, 2006 06:32 PM

CW2 Hill, why do you let DAVE get you all worked up? I see that you said it "amuses" you, but HE isn't worth your time! Let the Canadian talk out of his a&& and ramble on about things. You are there doing what you do and I for one appreciate it! I thank each and every one of you there in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We" and I say "we" because I am speaking of the soldiers and families of the unit; are on the downside of this deployment. I pray for you all each and every day and can't wait for your return home! You guys stay safe and stand proud! You are an American Soldier! Keep flying those flags and we'll see yall real soon!

Take care!
God Bless you!

Posted by: av8ryf | October 3, 2006 06:47 PM

So, who matters more - those that fight for the freedom of expression, or those that use it? It seems to me that both types of citizens are important. After all, what would be the point in fighting a war whose only remaining pretext is "freedom", when you quickly deny that same freedom to one of your neighbours with whom you disagree?

I say this blog is a public forum about a very public issue. I think anyone can present their views here if they feel like it. It will be destroyed if we are not able to present our point of views in a civil manner, but then that often happens in public debate.

Posted by: Canuck | October 3, 2006 07:08 PM

Canuck, I agree with you but why should one be critical of the very people fighting to give him that right?

Posted by: hhhhhmmmmm | October 4, 2006 01:52 AM

To Canuck, I actually agree with you on that point. I don't have the power or the desire to shut dave down. He makes inflamatory, insulting remaks. I then enjoy sparring with him (sometimes). I am proud of my neighbors to the North and respect their freedoms to. Cheers

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 4, 2006 04:00 AM

Alabi, in minor defense of dave, he actually has never bashed a troop, just Bush et al. He does seem to imply that we all are chumps to fight for Bush. I am a soldier. If my President says go, I go, That is what soldiers do (or should). That is my understanding of duty. To another writer, I am home now and have been for several months. Thank you for your kind words. I pray for my brothers and sisters in the field every day.

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 4, 2006 04:09 AM

Then there's Henry David's discourse on Civil Disobedience............

I believe in faith, but blind faith is not a good thing. I see the young recruits going off to fight a war for "freedom" and I am sad. Sad at the misrepresentations and the loss of all human life. Saddam would never have grown so large without our backing, at one point, they were great allies. Were we (the US) turning our backs on the treatment of Kurds when Saddam was our ally?

What does this say about our true interest in "Freedom"

Posted by: Dolly Llama | October 4, 2006 11:26 AM

heres a solution from a whiny, liberal, limp-wristed brainwashed sucker....

reverse the tax cuts, start the draft, and pour 3-400,000 troops in to do the job correctly.

When all Americans are 'forced' to support this war, not just Bert, his family and all the other troops/their families, maybe you'll have some success.

Hows that for supporting the troops?

Posted by: dave | October 4, 2006 12:31 PM

I may be as left leaning as they come, but when it comes to Flag and Country, I am most proud to be an American. Bert, what you are doing with your flags is a great story and a tribute to those that serve. I still fly the Flag I received when I served in the US Navy that flew over NavFac Agrentia, Newfoundland Canada. I can't tell you what the Flag means to me and can only think that those who receive your gifts are equally moved.

Dave's comment was snide, but he wasn't being ignorant, and for that, Barbi, I think you do owe an apology to Dave, as you transcended civil commentary with an attack on the person, not the subject.

Posted by: Bacchus | October 4, 2006 01:04 PM

>I agree with you but why should one be critical of the very people fighting to give him that right?

Well, that would depend if you thought your freedoms were in fact at risk. I don't think your/our "freedoms" are at risk in this case, and as a result I wouldn't want anyone going to Iraq on my behalf, or convincing others of their patriotic duty to go and fight.

If you're over there fighting to protect us from the islamic hords, from the imminent clash of civilization, from the rise of the Caliphate, from the terrorists that took down the towers, then I think you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Posted by: Canuck | October 4, 2006 01:39 PM

yes dave has the right. but apologize.....never.

Posted by: barbi | October 4, 2006 02:13 PM

No, no apologies required. dave knows he is being inflamatory and does not care. That is a little personal in my opinion.

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 4, 2006 03:06 PM

>knows he is being inflamatory and does not care

I agree with you "CW2 Hill". Even though "dave" and I share more than just a country (I too am highly critical of the war and the Bush admin) I also find that he is sometimes overly cynical and grating. Who knows - perhaps my undershorts are too damn tight!

Posted by: Canuck | October 5, 2006 05:07 PM

Mine are killing me as well, too funny Canuck. Have a great day !

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 5, 2006 06:44 PM

My husband's base is doing flag requests also, I find it a very beautiful thing and I would be comepletely honored if someone thought enough of me to request one in my name.
You're doing a wonderful thing over there Bert. Stay strong and keep fighting the good fight!

Posted by: Shannon | October 6, 2006 04:49 PM

Thanks, CW2 Hill, for your comments. Here are a couple of thoughts: ( 1 ) Yes, we all agree that "soldiers fight wars." My point was that we should commit our men and women only when there was a clear objective. So far, the Bush administration has not provided us a tangible reason so many of our service people are dying in Iraq.

( 2 ) The policy of not allowing photos of flag-draped coffins is denying the public the necessary exposure to the unsanitized version of war. People are KIA and horribly wounded. Agreed that the flag is a symbol of national pride and is meaningful to troops and families alike. We cannot, however, forget the cost of our senseless involvement in Iraq.

( 3 ) CW2, characterizing my statements as "idiotic" and "innane" is, in logical discourse, termed name-calling and is considered illogical. Think about the disconnect between our dedicated service people like Bert, serving in a land where the citizens want us to leave and many want to kill Americans, and our continued presence there.

( 4 ) Finally, CW2, you state, "the nature of this war is becoming clear to everyone everyday." Sadly and ironically, I agree with you, but not for the reasons you probably think. Our President has sacrificed the lives of more service men and women than victims of 09/11 and continues to ask all of us to "stay the course," at least until he can leave office in two years.

CW2, forty years ago, I wore the uniform and witnessed 800 Vietnam War casualties in our hospital at any given time for two years. I entered the service enthusiastic about our involvement and left strongly anti-war, except when we were directly defending our shores. Iraq has nothing to do with homeland security. That is why we "liberals," whom some consider less than patriotic, feel it is deeply honorable to want to stop the needless deaths and maiming of our service men and women.

Posted by: VERDANT44 | October 7, 2006 06:52 AM

First, I thank you for your service. Understanding your background explains to me why you feel the way you do. I still ask the more practical question to all like minded people. What do we do now? Can this nation afford to just pull up stakes and abandon Iraq to anarcy? I am not trying to be argumenative at the moment. I just want some opinion as to what you and others like you think should be done. Respectfully,

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 7, 2006 07:49 AM

What is your opinion about the tradition of killing civilians by Americans?

Do you know the case of a young Iraqi Woman who was gang-raped and murdered by five American soldiers in Iraq? The soldiers also killed her father, mother, and young sister in her family home south of Baghdad.

Read More ...

http://pakistan1947.blogspot.com/2006/09/war-to-colonise-hearts-and-minds_19.html

Posted by: Muhammad Azeem Akhter | October 7, 2006 06:20 PM

What is my opinion? It is a deplorable act commited by murderers. They should and will be tried under the UCMJ, and will suffer greatly for their crimes. This may include their receiving the death penalty. We should be there to set people free, not to make it worse. These are not the acts of soldiers, and we all are ashamed of their brutal crimes. Is this the answer you expected from a soldier? It is how any good soldier would feel. These acts do not represent the beliefs and values of 99.9% of the American soldiers in Iraq. Believe me or not, but it's the truth as I see it.

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 7, 2006 07:09 PM

Yo CW2 Hill, Welcome back. You done good with the flag. May you not have to rotate back. I come from the same "time frame" of Verdant44. I think your flying over in Iraq is even more dangerous than in Viet Nam.(too many brown outs in landing) This time around CW4 Tannintom

Posted by: walldodger1969 | October 8, 2006 02:35 PM

Thank you for that walldodger. I still think Vietnam was worse. Your pilots had lots of rain, low cieling and visability, and a whole lot more ground fire. The dust is scary though. An old friend of mine commented that during the dry season in Vietnam, the dust could get bad too. Thank you for your kind words.

Posted by: CW2 Hill | October 9, 2006 01:44 AM

My Marine daughter arrived at Al Asad yesterday...her first deployment. She's avionics...unit 41096. If anyone happens to meet her, please tell her hello from home...we love her and miss her already.
Godspeed to you all,
Westminster, Colorado

Posted by: Kathy | October 9, 2006 02:10 AM

CW2 Stover,

Although I'm in agreement with Dave and other critics on this blog, I just want to express my respect and gratitude for your service and for the committment, honor, and excellence that that service implies. I have not served myself, but I have had quite a bit of interaction with veterans through my work as a voluntary counselor.

In an effort to put us all on the same side, I would just like to say that it seems to me that we all support the troops, but that we have different takes on what "support the troops" means.

In the view of the "liberals," the "leftists," and whatever else you want to call us, the mission in Iraq is an oil business transaction that insults the honor, prestige, and sacrifice of the US armed forces. Therefore, our idea of supporting the troops is calling you back home so you can live to be around for a mission that is worthy of your training and excellence, i.e. a mission which is truly in the strategic defensive interests of the USA.

General Colin Powell once said, years before the 2003 invasion, that he opposed the occupation of Iraq after the First Gulf War because he "didn't want to see this great society fall apart." (By "great society" he was referring to the Army.)

The critics of the war are not critics of the armed forces. We are critics of the small group of men which is enriching itself at the cost of our noble soldiers' lives, as well as at the cost of countless thousands of Iraqi civilian lives, and at the cost of a worsening security situation at the global level. With all due respect to you, CW2 Stover, and to the other veterans and parents of serving soldiers commenting on this blog, the current occupation of Iraq is such a fowl abuse of the US armed forces that it may indeed risk causing the "great society" to "fall apart."

An old highschool buddy of mine is flying UH60s up in Tel Afar. God bless you all, God bless the Iraqi people, may everyone come home safe and sound.

Peace,
Rainer

Posted by: Rainer Cale | October 9, 2006 04:39 AM

MANY thanks for what you're doing. Hang in there and fly safe and be safe and hurry home.

Posted by: "E" & Molly | October 9, 2006 01:55 PM

Hang in there Bert! Not too much longer now, we are on the downside of this deployment. Cant wait to have my husband and the rest of the 224th back in VA!!! Keep up the good work,keep those flags flying and stay safe!

Posted by: military wife | October 10, 2006 11:53 AM

i shed my tears when i read what you wrote

Posted by: alex | October 17, 2006 04:14 AM

Both cw2 hill and dave are inflamatory -- taking cues from the media and thier surroundings -- liberal or conservative. Who gives a crap? We should look at the facts and just be rational. Not reactionary Not overly-loyal. Not inflamitory.

There's a big problem. This war costs money and lives. It is draining us. A draft is a real issue according to some military folks. We need to look critically at why we are in Iraq. Are we stuck? Is the added sum of our actions helping or hurting? How likely is it that we will be successful? If we are successful, is it worth the cost of lives?? The answer may be yes. But we need a little proof and better planning.

These are real issues. And too few seem to be thinking about the real issues b/c they are too busy calling each other names like a bunch of 8 yr olds.

Turn off the talk radio and get news from as many sources as possible. We all know they're slanted one way or the other. So look around at as much as you can. Look at the other side. They may have good points. We have this right to Investigate on our own. There's a reason why it's in the Constitution.

For instance, look to where our tax dollars are going. Is anyone gaining? If so who? Is it irrelevant if someone is getting rich b/c of the war? Does it matter if someone is doing the exact same job as Burt and making 4x's as much money?? Are these just lies? Investigate. The truth is out there. It will get clearer and clearer as long as each of us stays neutral and looks for the truth -- not what we want to be the truth. That goes for both sides.

In the meantime. . . Bert!!! Thanks for the inspiration. God Bless you and I hope you come safe.

I will do my part and question our government. Just as our forefather's questioned theirs.

I am looking foward not backward. I know that millions are willing to give thier lives for America. But I also acknowledge that we have made mistakes as a country. We must address those mistakes before we can move forward. The sooner we do. The better things will be. Our country is about opportunity and progress, and if this war is a quagmire let's move. If it's good, let's stay.

But I always think there are people like Bert, who care and put themselves on the line. And his life hangs in the balance. Other young lives hang in the balance. While some sit at our computers and call each other names. It's ridiculous and unproductive. And I, for one, am sick and tired of it.

Posted by: suzie | October 22, 2006 08:17 PM

Hi, intelligent people from "everywhere". Thank you brave soldiers for defending the defenseless. I haven't seen one comment from leaders of any country here. So all opinions with the exception of those directly involved,are speculation, hopefully based on good research. CW2 Hill,THANK YOU, for not only risking your life, also for giving a glimpse of what's really happening. Whether we should be there or not, the world's leaders will be held responsible by God. We each are responsible for our interaction with the world. To name call,bash or goad each other is a sorry state to live in. I was doing a Google search on a continuing development of verichip. I've followed it's news since 1998 when I came across the Destron Fearing company which developed the implantable ID chip for livestock and pets.Which is now owned by Applied Digital Solutions (ADSX stock symbol),which verichip is a heavily marketed subsidary. Today's search put me in the May comments and it was in a comment by Che. A few people slammed ( him?) pretty good, even with a ufo tin hat reference. Let me tell you why he was VERY timely in some of what he said and why it has EVERYTHING to do with OUR American Heroes...ANYONE could and I strongly urge you to catch up on it...The brief facts are ADS has convincing arguements to change ID requirements for our soldiers. with of course their implantable chip and they have the ears of Capital Hill. They are pushing to implant immigrant workers by law. What a surprise Mexico's leaders are eager to comply.There is "verimed" the implantable medical ID chip implant.Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield is in a 2 year pilot program with ADS, to offer "the chip" to it's insured.To date there are 252 hospitals in 31 states that have made it STANDARD PROTOCOL to scan all unconcious or otherwise uncommunicative patients FIRST to see if they have this "time/life saving chip" .There are now over 1000 physcians agree to implant the chip.And 53 Doctors implanted. Verichip offers veriguard verikid vericash too. Please look it up.

Posted by: L.C. | October 23, 2006 08:10 PM

Our soldiers that we depend on have always been subject to experiments.And I find it sickening. There is so much more to Applied Digital Solutions and how our future is becoming scarier by leaps and bounds.They got FDA approval for implanting in 2004. The progress achieved since then is fast paced due to Tommy Thompson's position at verichip.Anyone remember him? If you don't, do some history and your eyes will be opened to why Washington is being coaxed to believe verichip makes us secure and safe.Thompson has powerful contacts and influence.His position at verichip is very good for them,bad for us. ADS makes 1984 look like a kiddy story.

Posted by: L.C. | October 23, 2006 08:44 PM

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