The Day I Got A Flag

I didn’t own a flag and then one day, a troop sent me one from a combat zone as a heartfelt, “thank you.” As July 4th approaches, and more flags adorn more places, I thought I’d share the story of how I got mine.

No outdoor space

I live in an apartment building in NYC. While some people do have yards or balconies, I do not. Hanging things outside your window, many stories above unsuspecting pedestrians, is frowned upon here more than large sodas. Living vertically means certain safety considerations. When I lived in the suburbs we had a flag on the porch. But the porch stayed with the house. When I crossed the city line, owning a flag never crossed my mind.

“You have a package from Afghanistan”

In my volunteer experience, emails are easy to exchange but letters are mostly from here to there. So if I got correspondence, “from the sandbox” I was very touched. On this particular day I was not only surprised to have a package, but by the contents as well.

At times, troops will have flags flown at bases or in this case, carried aboard aircraft, in honor of someone. It’s a way to say thanks. I never knew about this tradition until that day.

I had been pen pals with an Airman and before he came home, he decided to do this for me. It seems that sharing funny stories about my daughter Sofia and the care packages we sent had helped him through a difficult period and painful losses. But because he never shared what he was going through at the time, I had no idea how much the little things we did meant to him. Then I opened the box.

Flag flown in combat, in Afghanistan. Gift from an Airman.

When I held the flag in my hands I was very moved, thinking about where it had been and his reasons for sending it. Underneath it, I found this certificate. The words “combat mission” made something I know is serious and dangerous, seem even more real. And, as always, made me wish for an outbreak of world peace. Seeing the words, “for Gina and Sofia” also struck me. We were strangers that wrote to him through Soldiers’ Angels. Yet he and all the others, “do what they do” for people they love and for the vast majority of us that they do not know and will never meet.

flag certificate from combat zone

(names blurred for privacy)

Happy Independence Day

Beach, barb-b-que, red, white, & blue cupcakes, fireworks, I wish you a happy holiday whatever you’re doing. I also thank our troops everywhere for helping ensure we can celebrate our country’s birthday yet again. I thank them and their families for the freedom to enjoy days like this with our own families. And, while my flag still remains indoors, I’m very grateful to have it.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

“We had a rough week….”

Bad things happen in a combat zone. In my head, I knew that. But after adopting my soldier, I felt it more. My connection to him made the evening news feel personal. Or as my buddy Andy said, “now you have skin in the game.”

His Email

In the first 9 days after adopting my soldier, I learned:

He couldn’t wait to meet his baby boy, Kyle.

He is a sniper currently doing a Personal Security Detail.

He is in charge of 23 soldiers. He cares about them a lot.

He is a huge hockey fan.

He loves canned ravioli.

Day 10:

“……. this last week has been really tough here. Another platoon in our unit lost a guy when their truck was hit by a roadside bomb. The…….other guys in the truck were sent back to the states because of injuries. We have been here since mid June and this is the third person we have lost. It has been hard for most of my platoon since this is their first deployment and they have never been through anything like this before. “

His concern was for the fallen, the families and his fellow soldiers. My concern was for him as well.

This I Can Do

I can’t make world peace happen. I’m all for it, but I can’t make it just happen. However, I could do this- I could make sure he hears his name at every mail call. Give him 5 minutes where he’s reminded of his real world a world away. Where he knows that the sacrifice he and his family is making is appreciated. So I stepped up the letter writing and started sending a few more care packages.

Communication Blackout

sniper rifle on roof in combat zone

Six weeks later, I turn on the news and there’s been an attack. It sounded like the area my soldier was in. His emails stop. The e-silence in my inbox was profound. I found out that when someone is KIA, there is a communications blackout until the next of kin are notified. In this attack, eight U.S. troops were killed and 22 wounded. Here I am not knowing if my soldier is okay or not. I was worried. Then I thought, “I’m a stranger. What must his wife be feeling?”

I found out the attack occurred at a base about 15 minutes away from him. I said a prayer for those soldiers and their families. And I felt relief that my soldier was alright. There would be more days to get to know him.

© Gina left the mall, 2012