CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Soldiers from the 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division unfurled 150 flags in a ceremony here Dec. 25 to mark the 231st anniversary of Gen. George Washington, commander of the Continental Army and later the first President of the United States, crossing the Delaware River during Christmas of 1776.
Maj. Kurt Connell, operations officer for the Ironhorse Brigade's 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, who hails from Greenfield, Ind., helped organize the event which is part of a program designed to observe special historical dates on which flags will be unfurled in Iraq and then given to combat veterans and others in the U.S.
"They'll be going to Soldiers, veterans and citizens who have supported the cause of freedom in some way or another," said Connell, who explained that many of them will be sent to veterans of World War II or Korea and their families as well as to the families of military service members killed in action. "Some will also go to Soldiers who have gone that extra mile to take care of their peers and comrades."
"The genesis of this was a program set up by the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment (1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div.) similar to this one where they would take flags with them on missions outside the wire on special dates or to celebrate someone's birthday," stated Connell, adding that those flags were also shipped to veterans back in the states.
Once Connell learned of the program, he enlisted his wife's help to start a similar program in the 1st BSTB.
"My wife asked me what we needed and we had plenty of shampoo, soap and Q-tips, and so I thought of the program and from there, my wife drove the process," Connell explained.
After Connell's wife, Robyn, contacted a few friends, word of the program spread to local businesses, churches and individual donors in Indiana--Connell's homestate--who then sent the flags directly to Connell's unit address.
"I was overwhelmed with the number of letters, the amount of flags coming in-sometimes it was almost too much to manage-but it was well worth it," he said.
According to Connell, the choice of Washington crossing the Delaware as a historical theme for the flag unfurling held a lot of meaning for the Ironhorse Soldiers participating in the event, especially with regards to sacrificing time spent at home for time spent in Iraq throughout the holiday season.
"We had to pick a day, to unfurl the flags, that had significance," Connell said. "George Washington, along with Alexander Hamilton, James Madision, James Monroe, John Marshall and a host of others endured tremendous hardships and sacrificed greatly of themselves when they crossed the Delaware Rive to attack the enemy garrison at Trenton, N.J. These sacrifices and many more like them gave the hope of freedom and new life to our American nation."
"This (the river crossing) was George Washington's second Christmas in a row spent in the field for the cause of freedom. The first was in 1775 which he spent outside of Boston containing the British Army camped there," Connell said. "Like Washington and his team of patriots, the Ironhorse team has also sacrificed the comforts of home for a second Christmas in a row to give the gifts of hope and a new life to another great nation (Iraq)."
Connell explained that he has seen first hand the effect that giving the flags has had on the troopers who have received them in honor of their service.
"We've given a few to departing troops and there was not a single one of them that didn't get choked up which is a sign of how meaningful it is for them to receive something like this," said Connell.
Buffalo, N.Y. native Pvt. Jamie Hardy, a signal support systems specialist with Headquarters Company, 1st BSTB, said that the significance of the event was not lost on her.
"This really was a great experience," said Hardy, a signal support systems specialist for Headquarters Company, 1st BSTB of the event. "Although there can be a lot of hard times when you're away from your family over the holiday season, what we're doing here and the sacrifices we make will eventually pay off and hopefully the Iraqi people will be able to celebrate all holidays in peace and security."
Giving the flags to the veterans, Soldiers and other military service members who have also sacrificed for their country is very much in line with the spirit of Christmas, Hardy added.
Accompanying each flag is a certificate of authenticity signed by Connell stating that the flags were unfurled on Camp Taji during the anniversary of the river crossing and read that they are dedicated "in honor of our veterans and citizens for their unwavering support to the cause of freedom." The background portrait on the certificate is a reproduction of the well-known 1851 painting by Emanuel Leutze that depicts the famous Revolutionary War episode.