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Patriotic Article
War and Tragedy

By Army SSgt. Brandon Pomrenke

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New York's Ground Zero Flag Brings Coalition Troops Together
(March 12, 2011)

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BAGRAM, Afghanistan (March 2, 2011) – An important reminder of why international troops are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq has been traveling throughout Afghanistan; a United States flag that has been soaring above the construction site at New York City's Ground Zero.
U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michelle Fournier, a California resident and the senior enlisted advisor to the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion commander, has been entrusted with the flag that had been on display until being passed to soldiers from her unit and Regional Command – East, from Fort Dix, N.J., March 1.

“The New York Port Authority flies the flag at the construction site and has a program where you can pick up the flag and take it with you overseas to symbolize the reasons why we're here,” explained Fournier. “The intent is to show the American flag and support of
  Members of A Company, 1-69 Aviation Regiment, hold the flag from Ground Zero, as snow falls at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, March 2, 2011. The 1-69 fly Blackhawk helicopters on various missions, from escorting VIPs to transporting detainees. Photo by British Sgt. Chris Hargreaves
Members of A Company, 1-69 Aviation Regiment, hold the flag from Ground Zero, as snow falls at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, March 2, 2011. The 1-69 fly Blackhawk helicopters on various missions, from escorting VIPs to transporting detainees. Photo by British Sgt. Chris Hargreaves
coalition forces here in Afghanistan; the appreciation and to serve as a reminder of why we're here.”
International troops have been serving in Afghanistan for almost 10 years now and for some, the reasons for multiple deployments, loss of friends, time away from family are starting to be forgotten. These U.S. colors are meant to serve as a reminder of why troops are so far away from home, often fighting for their lives daily.

For 1st Sgt. Dennis Hicks, B Company, 404th Civil Affairs Battalion first sergeant, the memories of 9/11 are still quite vivid.

“In an off-hand way we actually witnessed the attack,” said Hicks, who is a New York resident and works at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus. “We saw the plane hit the second tower. It sort of defines the reason for the flag to be traveling around. I wasn't as close as some people to that attack; I didn't lose any family, but I think the day of that attack really brought people together. Its probably one of the worst things to ever happen on [US] soil.

“I don't think anything could prepare you for that. To watch thousands of people coming across the Brooklyn Bridge covered in dust. And days could smell the burning going on days later.”

The memories are not only fresh for Hicks, but for Fournier, as well.

“I know as a California Highway Patrol officer in Los Angeles, what I saw was amazing,” she said. “We usually have bumper to bumper traffic almost 24 hours a day over 8 lanes of highway. [On 9/11] the roads were deserted and it was very eerie. The country was under attack and everybody just took shelter. I have never in my life seen Los Angeles like that, ever. And slowly the cars would come back out on the highway and they all had American flags flying from their cars. It brought the country together, like [1st Sgt. Hicks] said.”

For many who actually witnessed the attack in New York and the Pentagon, the flag holds a special meaning. The flag brought many emotions to several soldiers. Fournier even had the opportunity to raise the colors with the French, who played their national anthem as a sign of respect for all that has been done and for those who have sacrificed to serve their respective countries.

“What it's really done is amazing to me; to see what it's brought to coalition forces and soldiers,” Fournier said. “I've actually come across a lot of soldiers who personally were at Ground Zero working as firefighters, police officers and a lot of my soldiers were called to ground zero to provide aid in different capacities.”

During the travels of the flag, many were present to witness its arrival. It has been to many places throughout Afghanistan, some more dangerous than others, and it has survived its year-long travels.

Fournier recalled one such location. “One of the most hostile places was up in the Pech Valley at Forward Operating Base Blessing. It went there, stayed there, and it was safe through many nights of mortar attacks,” she said. “Any place it goes, it brings a sense of freedom with it, and it's a symbol of that freedom and the sacrifices of the American people and what all the coalition forces try to bring Afghanistan and the Afghan people.”

The flag, which was picked up from the New York City Port Authority March 1, 2010, will be returned shortly after the 404th's redeployment. After its return, it will eventually be placed in the 9/11 museum with the names of all who visited the flag while in Afghanistan.

“To me, it shows the world we haven't diminished,” said Hicks. “The flag represents our country. It's been to Iraq and Afghanistan and we're going to return it to the 9/11 site.

“In general, I think there will be an initial excitement about it. But the war's been going on so long, I think it'll be good to get the flag back there.”

As the flag makes it return, it will make a last stop at Manas. Manas has a special place in this flag's history as it was the first stop upon it's entry into Afghanistan, where a brief ceremony was held at Pete's Place. Pete's Place is dedicated to the fallen of 9/11.

“The flag has visited 671 people so far,” said Fournier. “By the time we actually leave it will have seen over 700.

“Everybody over here really gives up a lot. They're away from their families, their civilian jobs, their friends, their everyday comforts, and they do it with great honor and dignity.”

By Army SSgt. Brandon Pomrenke
ISAF Joint Command
Copyright 2011

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