Flags in mission begins Memorial Day observations
June 4, 2012
By Jim Dresbach
When asking an Old Guard Soldier or military volunteer about the time spent to complete the pre-Memorial Day "flags in" mission, the answer is very uniform.
"As long as it takes to complete the mission," is the standard reply.
In hours and minutes, May 24's flags in operation -- a mission to place a 6 by 9-inch American flag at every Arlington National Cemetery gravesite -- an Old Guard company spends two and a half to three hours inside Arlington National Cemetery planting mini stars and stripes in the Northern Virginia sod.
The instructions for flags in are simple: the flag is placed a foot-length from the head stone in the middle of the grave. This process is repeated approximately 220,000 times the Thursday before Memorial Day in a 64-year tradition that involves every available Old Guard Soldier.
"In my company, there are about 144 men. We're the 289th Military Police Company," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Sibayan. "We're here until the mission is complete."
The Old Guard Soldiers began assembling near ANC's Selfridge Gate (West Gate) on the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall side around 2:30 p.m. By 3:20 p.m., Soldiers were scattering through wide swatches of ANC to complete the flags in operation.
"It is an honor to do it," said The Old Guard's Spc. Donovan Ditzler, who was taking part in his first flags in ceremony. "These are the people who served us a long time ago." Ditzler also noted that flags in protocol warrants that Medal of Honor recipients additionally receive a salute at the end of the procedure.
Flags are stored inside an Arlington National Cemetery storage facility when not in use. For flags in, the banners are distributed via truck to The Old Guard and volunteer troops. Each truck carried around 20,000 flags.
"This is a pretty big deal. This is my third year doing it, and I take great pride in doing it every year," said Sibayan. "Not only in coming out to put flags in, but also coming back to take them out and make sure they are taken care of for the following year."
Kasey Martin, wife of 289th MP Co.'s Sgt. 1st Class John Martin, waited with her two daughters, Karlee and Kaylee, for the arrival of the troops. Being the company's unofficial photographer, Kasey is a multi-year veteran of flags in days.
"This is quite an honor to be able to come in here and do this," she said. "To come in with the guys and watch them actually gives me goose bumps."
"This will be done today," Casey added. "They spread out and it goes pretty quick. I was kind of amazed how fast they go."