AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Stars and Stripes stand for many things: liberty, pride and freedom to name a few. As America continues its stride for a free Iraq, the American flag flies beside the Iraqi flag on a daily basis here. The two countries, along with others in the coalition, suggest freedom as a way of life, an ideal that many have died for.
Since arriving in this western region of Iraq, Marines have written home to have flags forwarded here. The small military exchanges often can’t keep them in stock. But, throughout the Al Anbar province flags are flying.
Each morning a United States flag is raised at the headquarters of each military unit. Often, the flag belongs to someone who plans to hold on to it for years to come. Sometimes it may be a gesture for citizens who hold the flag dear to their heart and cherish what it signifies.
“This is an awesome treasure,” said Cpl. Austin N. Hunt, 19, from Marshall, Ark. “You can’t put a price on having an American flag flown during combat; to a Marine it has its own special value.”
The Tactical Air Command Center security team has shouldered the responsibility of raising the Stars and Stripes at the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters. Each morning these Marines hoist Old Glory alongside Iraq’s country flag. Since March they’ve flown more than 165 personal flags and have more than 70 waiting to be raised, and that is just this headquarters element alone.
“It is a great honor to be serving my country today,” said Lance Cpl. Steven S. Hendrickson, 21, from Woodbury Heights, N.J. “Serving during a time of war and having the honor to raise our national colors in a combat zone is a feeling you can’t describe. It is a privilege to be a part of something that holds such great meaning to others.”
To many American citizens the flag may symbolize independence or victory. But, to Marines and other U.S. servicemen it is the embodiment of the country they serve by providing a legacy since the founding of the United States.
“Some flags are flown for veterans, parents, or for the Marine himself,” recalled Hendrickson. “I consider it noble to have a flag flown here. I’m having a flag flown for my father who also served in the military.”
The United States flag does not fly above the Iraqi flag here; neither flag is superior to the other. Each day, the flags are raised and lowered together demonstrating America’s commitment to a free Iraq.
“Our flag stands for freedom and that is what we are here for,” said Sgt. Brian C. Levinson, 23, from Boca Raton, Fla. “We want the people of Iraq to live free and without fear.”
Recently, American supporters called on the House of Representatives to protect the flag that thousands in uniform serve. This fight could give Congress the power to outlaw the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
“I can’t believe that anyone would do something dishonorable like that,” punctuated Levinson. “It’s sad to know that it is one of our rights to burn or desecrate the flag. We fight for freedom, and in a way, give people the choice that I believe is the most unpatriotic act known. The flag means a lot to anyone who ever fought for our country or is currently serving in our military. If there wasn’t a law before, there should be one now. The flag is the most patriotic symbol that we have. It stands for all that is right and good about the United States of America.”
Marines of the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing are proud of Old Glory. Each day as aircraft launch or the colors are raised someone’s flag is flying either on a flagpole or inside a cockpit. Whether it is for personal gratification or a gift to someone back home, having the Stars and Stripes flown over foreign soil carries special meaning.
“I am so very proud to be serving my country now,” said Cpl. Adrienne J. Dochter, age 20, and a native of Adamstown, Pa. “Serving the American people and taking part in raising, lowering and dedicating our colors in a combat zone is honorable and shows pride in America.”
For almost 230 years the American flag has been an icon of a free nation. It symbolizes a country whose citizens have fought for and achieved Independence.
“It’s a privilege to serve here with so many Marines who ask for nothing but support,” said Levinson. We hold our head high because of the pride in God, country, and Corps that comes from the support of the Americans behind us and the flag we respect.”
It isn’t uncommon to see rows of homes with their United States flag. It isn’t uncommon to see highways decorated with the symbol so many associate with freedom. Many Americans may agree that patriotism hit an all time high on Sept. 11, 2001. Many may say it was a time when the nation came together with valor, perseverance, justice, and vigilance. A nation that mobilized and reenergized with the understanding that freedom is worth fighting for.
Evident in the service of today’s military men and women, the American flag has renewed its admiration, and today it still remains a difficult task to find the Stars and Stripes in stock, especially in Iraq where Americans wave the colors each day.