Tattered red, white and blue stirs deep emotions for brigade commander
June 21, 2010
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq -- "I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands ..."
It goes by many names - Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, and the Red, White and Blue - but, no matter what you call it, the United States flag represents a free and unified country, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.
However, for one U.S. servicemember, one, specific U.S. flag provides a far more personal representation. Although worn, tattered, and frayed at the edges, it has witnessed the highs and lows of six different military deployments and has flown in five different countries.
This specific flag has special meaning for Col. Chuck E. A. Sexton, the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Commander, 3rd Infantry Division, who has carried it with him for the past 24 years. The respect he has for this flag is a quality bestowed upon him by his parents.
"It's more than just the cloth and material that gives this flag its special meaning. It represents the cause for which Soldiers have given their lives. It represents the Soldiers who serve their country, putting themselves into harm's way, preserving the freedoms we enjoy today," Col. Sexton said.
"Both my mother and father's families were immigrants to the United States, who left Europe to get away from oppression and slavery in Eastern and Western Europe," said Col. Sexton, a New York City native. "When they came to this country, they valued the country so much they defended it during World War II.
They taught me as a kid growing up, to always respect my country and flag."
Respect for the flag has carried over to Col. Sexton's military service. After his initial enlistment in the Army as a private, he was commissioned as an infantry second lieutenant in July 1985.
"It's a part of you. It's something that's very comforting to bring with me each time I go," said the self-assured New Yorker. "When I flew it in Somalia, it got some battle damage there. It also got some damage in the first Gulf War. It's very comforting to have it with you. Usually I keep it folded now, because it's frayed at the edges in a couple of places and it's got some shrapnel rips in it.
"In the first Gulf War the stars and stripes got a little greyer from the oil fires. It took a little bit of shrapnel from Iraqi artillery and it put a couple of rips in it. The wind was really strong then, so it kind of unraveled a little bit at the ends too."
Colonel Sexton said he remembers, with clarity, a windy day, Feb. 27, 1991, after they captured the Jalibah Airfield, a place south of Tallil, along Highway 8, during Operation Desert Storm.
"After we captured the airfield, at eight o'clock in the morning and things were still smoking, we pulled out our flags because we had them stowed during the attack. I mounted mine on top of the track. It was for a good reason - part of it was for morale and the other was so we wouldn't get hit by our own aircraft. It was a really good feeling to see the good old Stars and Stripes unfurled and flying in the breeze. You heard a lot of the guys cheering and it was a good feeling, seeing that flag flying."
It flew every day, and was then re-folded until his next deployment, when he was called to serve in Somalia in 1993, where it was unfurled and once more flew on a daily basis.
"Now, when someone asks me to re-enlist them, or asks me to promote them, I always bring it with me," said Col. Sexton. "It's kind of neat to look over the last 20-plus years and the number of people that have stood under that flag with their hands up swearing an oath - either an Oath of Re-enlistment, or an oath to our nation. It's easily in the hundreds now.
"It's even neater to watch the Soldiers you've been with. It causes it to become more tangible and more of a living thing. That is the most critical part - it represents the people. That's what makes our country great. It's the people it represents, instead of one specific leader. The flag talks about that continuity," he said, with a knowing smile.