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Soldier honors his favorite team by flying flag for Stars in Iraq

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

The war in Iraq may technically be over since so-called ‘combat operations’ there ceased on Aug. 31, 2010, but there’s little doubt the memories of enduring such a hostile environment will remain forever with the men and women who served there.

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So when, in the midst of that extremely dangerous atmosphere, a little taste of home reaches their consciousness, it provides a significant boost to the morale of the soldiers.

For Air Force Reserves Master Sergeant Bobby Clarkin, a big Stars fan from Whitney, Texas (about 35 miles north of Waco), seeing TV commercials on the Armed Forces Network featuring Stars players like Mike Modano thanking all the military personnel for their heroic service, really touched his heart.

Making the sentiment even more special for Clarkin was that the Stars were the only North American sports franchise to air such messages on the Armed Forces Network.

“Being from here and being a Stars fan and hearing the Stars and being that the Stars were the only one on there, yeah, it was a little bit of home, which made it nice,” acknowledged Clarkin, 43, who served as a firefighter in Kirkuk, Iraq from January through June of 2010. “It was Mike Modano and then there was a couple of other Stars, they would show a real quick, 30-second clip or whatever, thanking soldiers for what we do over there. It really kind of hit home, because, out of all the NHL teams, out of all the sports teams, the Stars were the only one that they played that constantly thanked the soldiers, and I just thought that was pretty cool. Plus, we’re Stars fans, so it was pretty neat. You’re focused on your job, but any time you see the Stars on there saying thanks, it just meant a lot.”

Then Clarkin realized there was a unique way he could express his appreciation right back to the Stars - by flying the American flag in their honor, an authenticated process that many soldiers participated in.

“Sometimes they’ll take the flag and it’ll actually go on a helicopter mission, where the Army pilot will actually take it and fly it with him on a mission over Iraq,” Clarkin explained. “I bought the flag from the base exchange over there and when you had someone that you wanted to honor, then you just petitioned to put in for that day so the flag could be flown for whoever you wanted it flown for. So I bought the flag and petitioned to have it flown. Because I’m a firefighter over there, outside of the fire station we had a flagpole and we took one day and flew the flag for the Stars. So then there’s a certificate that goes with it, authenticating that it was flown in Iraq on that day for them. It was just kind of a way for me to say thanks.”

It may seem like such a small gesture, a simple 30-second commercial thanking servicemen and women for their courage and sacrifice, but for someone spending six months as a target in a literal war zone, the impact on their demeanor was remarkable.

“I wouldn’t say we saw major combat, but they did shoot rockets at us kind of on a weekly basis,” Clarkin said. “We’d get shot at three or four times a week, just real random rockets over the fence type of thing.”

As for the flag itself, it is now prominently displayed at the Stars’ offices at the Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, after Clarkin’s wife Shannan presented it to the organization recently when she accompanied their son Cody to a recent game at the American Airlines Center to celebrate his 15th birthday.

Clarkin himself kept meaning to bring the authenticated flag himself, but has been very busy with his job working for the Burleson Fire Department, and was serving his obligatory commitment with the Reserves (one weekend per month and two weeks per year) at the time.

“I would have loved to have gotten out there personally to present the flag to the players to thank them,” Clarkin acknowledged, “but it turned out I was out of town for his birthday, at (Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City) doing my military thing, and she got their tickets, so I just had her take the flag and the certificate out there with them when they went to the game and just kind of hand it over. I’ve been pretty busy since I’ve been back, so it hadn’t worked out for me to get out there, so when they were going, I just told them to go ahead and use that opportunity to give it to them, rather than just it not being done.”

Clarkin remains appreciative and offers his heartfelt thanks to the organization for the commercials that helped add a touch of home to an otherwise extremely difficult mission.

“I hope you can find a nice case to display it with, but most importantly, could you pass on my gratitude to the team for keeping us in their thoughts while we served?” Clarkin asked. “It meant so much to us.”

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