The Dallas Stars players were called into a team meeting on Friday where they were surprised and honored to receive a Stars flag that had been flown over in Iraq by the Air Force National Guard squadron from Garland, Texas.
The flag, flown over the Kirkuk Regional Air Base in Iraq by the 221st Combat Communications Squadron, was raised on July 22, 2008 and flown for the day before being taken down and signed by all the members of the squadron. Messages included good luck toward the team and gratitude for their unwavering support.
“I can’t even imagine what this thing has been through,” Dallas captain Brenden Morrow
said as he accepted the flag in the Stars’ dressing room before practice. “On behalf of our team and our families, I would like to thank you for everything you have done, keeping us safe and able to sleep at night. We have probably given you some restless nights cheering for us this year, but we will use this as motivation next year.”
The idea to fly the flag was that of Staff Sergeant Jonathan Mitchell. Each member of the squadron was given permission to fly a flag of their choice beneath the Stars and Stripes for a day of their choosing. It was something, Mitchell said, that could then be taken home as a keepsake. The staff sergeant chose July 22 because it’s his best friend, Michael “Wes” Westbrook’s birthday.
“He’s the one who turned me on to hockey,” he said. “I flew the flag on his birthday to honor him and to honor the Dallas Stars because they have military members at every game and they have military appreciation days and I just wanted to do a little thank you to them.”
“We try to support our troops,” said Brad Richards, who donates tickets to every game to military members and their families in his Task Force 91 section. “What they do for us is incredible and valuable and it’s pretty good motivation to know that they’re flying a flag in our honor over there, and in our support.”
The squadron presented the team with the flag, then were able to walk around the locker room, getting an insider’s view as they met the team and got autographs Many brought jerseys with them to have signed, including Mitchell. He brought a Modano jersey that was signed by No. 9 and was to be given to the friend he honored.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Mitchell said. “It’s not every day you get to do something like this. You get to meet the guys and shake their hands and say, ‘Thanks again for what you do, it’s really important to people.’”
As photos of the flag being flown passed around the room, players seemed in awe of the honor they had been given. The photo of the flag being saluted as it was taken down struck a chord with many of them, including goaltender Marty Turco.
“Seeing that flag flying over in Iraq, right below the American flag and having that be kind of symbolic for them … it’s a pretty neat feeling,” he said.
“It really means a lot to see them here,” said center Mike Ribeiro
. “We get nervous to play hockey games … I can’t imagine how they feel to do their job every day. They’ve been over there fighting in Iraq and it’s nice to know that they’re there to protect us.”
The respect and appreciation flowed both ways as players thanked the members of the military for their service, and the squadron thanked the team for all they do on the ice and in their support of the troops. Some of the service men and women stayed after the ceremony to watch practice, and a few others even came back to the player’s lounge after practice and talked further with the team.
“You can never compare what they do for all of us and our freedom in this country to what we do on the ice with a stick and a puck,” Turco said. “We get glorified, but there’s no way to even compare the two. It was a good day for us and they seemed to have some fun, too.”