Who Banned the U.S. Flag in Kirkuk?
At 3 a.m. on June 28, 2003, a rocket-propelled grenade crashed through a window of the Kirkuk barracks at Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, where three members of the mortar platoon slept: 30-year-old Spc. John Perkins, 19-year-old Pfc. Brian McJunkin, and 24-year-old Spc. Aaron Blakely. When the smoke cleared and the three could hear above the ringing in their ears, Perkins and McJunkin had taken some shrapnel, but Blakely’s legs were seriously injured.
Blakely was evacuated to the United States where doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had to amputate both his feet.
Last September, members of the 503rd returned home for some well-deserved R&R. Perkins and McJunkin met up with Spc. Larry Burns from C Company, to pay a visit to their wounded friend, Blakely. Before going they reported to members of the press “Despite daily ambushes, the guys agree far more Iraqi citizens are grateful for U.S. presence than not. Not a day goes by without some Kirkuk resident inviting them into their home for a cup of Chai tea. Or a kid runs up, yanking a uniform sleeve, wanting to shake their hand.”
In addition to just wanting to see their friend, these guys were bringing Blakely a gift from the rest of his comrades-in-arms: An American flag that had flown over the base in Kirkut.
But now, DefenseWatch has learned, the U.S. flag will no longer fly over Kirkuk Airbase. Despite the sacrifices of Blakely and the others who were killed or wounded liberating this ancient city, somebody somewhere in the U.S. chain of command has decided that the Stars and Stripes waving in the breeze might offend some Kirkuk residents.
Although I have been unable to determine exactly who first issued this order, it is clear that some desk jockey pulled a page from his political correctness manual, and pantywaist commanders more concerned about their fitness reports than what is right have knuckled under.
The only people exhibiting any sand are Tech Sgt. Sam Arbuckle and the other members of the Kirkuk Airbase Fire Department, 506 ECES/CEF, who continued to post and retire the colors until they were directly ordered to lower the flag for the last time.
In the words of Arbuckle, this “is a slap in the face of those families back home who have lost a loved one. It is also a slap in the face for those who still remain here, not only protecting our people back home, but trying to make a difference here in the pursuit of freedom for the Iraqi people.” He went on to say that “If we are to fly the Iraqi flag with our flag then so be it. But don’t tell us that we can’t show respect for our flag, when so many have died in the name of freedom. The only people I think who would be offended, are the people who kill innocent women and children in the name of religion.”
The shameful decision to ban the flag stands in sharp contrast to the members of the 503rd who brought one of these flags half-way around the world to present to their wounded comrade. If Blakely had to get wounded, it was fortunate it happened back in June, when the Stars and Stripes still flew proudly over Kirkuk.
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor