Security Forces honors wounded troops in Afghanistan
By Senior Airman Ryan Kuntze, 128th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published June 11, 2009
MILWAUKEE -- A cellular phone rings in the dark.
The call is from the Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, hospital. Two wounded U.S. service members have just arrived on base.
Staff Sgt. Brian Wunder, a 128th Air Refueling Wing Security Forces Squadron team member, gets out of bed, changes back into his Airman Battle Uniform, and begins to fold two U.S. flags.
Members of the 128 ARW Security Forces Squadron volunteered to lead the Flags for Wounded Troops program while deployed to Afghanistan last year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Flags for Wounded Troops program delivered folded flags and certificates signed by aircrew members and SFS team members to U.S. service members wounded in action and brought to Bagram Air Base, Wunder said.
The program had been in place when the 128 SFS team arrived at Bagram Air Base, but it became a daily volunteer effort once Wunder and his teammates began to direct it, Wunder said.
Support for the program was widespread, Wunder said. He said he put word out about the Flags for Wounded Troops program to his friends and family in the United States. Soon thereafter, newsletters from churches and the American Legion in southeast Wisconsin were advocating the program, he said. Word spread throughout the nation, to states like California, Texas and Alabama, and U.S. flags began to arrive in the daily mail, he said.
Wunder said he would usually call the base hospital and inquire about inbound wounded service members. If there were wounded people of the U.S. armed forces coming to Bagram, he said he would fold a flag for each of them and, along with volunteers, deliver the flag and an accompanying certificate during the late evening hours.
The certificates were individually assigned to a flag, and denoted a specific Flyaway Security Team mission in which the flag had been flown, Wunder said. Aircrew members and SFS team members who had been on the missions would sign the certificates, he said. Once the flags and certificates were returned to the base, Wunder said he would put them into a secure locker until such a time when he would prepare them for delivery to a wounded service member.
"The soldiers themselves very much appreciated the program: the respect, honor and gratitude," said Master Sgt. Denise Cournoyer, a 128 SFS flight sergeant who helped to present the flags and certificates. Cournoyer said she thought the flags and certificates meant a lot to the wounded service members because the items came from the service members' peer group.
Wunder agreed, saying that some of the wounded service members valued the folded U.S. flags and accompanying certificates more than the Purple Heart medals they had received. He said this was because the Purple Heart was a foregone conclusion due to the injuries the people of the U.S. armed forces had sustained in the line of duty, while the folded flag and certificate were given by volunteers who had taken it upon themselves to show their support for the wounded U.S. service members.
Wunder was keen to point out that folding the flags, printing the certificates and delivering the items to wounded U.S. service members were not things the 128 SFS team members had to do; it was purely a volunteer-only effort. He said he had folded and helped deliver 106 flags to wounded service members during his time at Bagram Air Base.
"It could almost be someone's full-time job to fold the flags, track the wounded troops, and follow up with the troops," Wunder said. "It was a lot of work, but it was well worth it."
Many of the combat-wounded people of the U.S. armed forces were 18 or 19 years old, with about a full year of duty, Wunder said.
"It's hard to see guys who've been in for a year, and suddenly they have this happen to them," Wunder said. "It really puts everything in perspective."
"The Flags for Wounded Troops program was probably one of the better things to come out of this deployment," Cournoyer said.
Master Sgt. Jeff Mather, a 128 SFS squad leader, had a similar point of view.
"The Flags for Wounded Troops program was probably the toughest duty we had over there," Mather said.
Despite being back at the 128 ARW in Wisconsin, Wunder said he still actively supports the program. He said he has completed a dozen presentations since he has returned home, and has continued to bolster support for the Flags for Wounded Troops program.
Due to the efforts of Wunder and the 128 SFS team members, there are about 1,200 flags waiting in a closed room at Bagram Air Base. Wunder said he thinks that will be enough flags for the next four years.