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DC Guard Members Unfurl Super-Flag on Opening Day for the Washington Nationals 
By Tech. Sgt. Tyrell Heaton 
113th Wing Public Affairs, District of Columbia National Guard 
 
Members of the D.C. National Guard hold a football-field sized American flag on the outfield during pre-game ceremonies for Opening Day at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. March 31, 2011. U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Tyrell Heaton

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than 150 Soldiers and Airmen from the District of Columbia and Florida National Guards and Military District of Washington teamed together to unfurl a 100-foot-by-300-foot American super flag on opening day of the baseball season here as the Washington Nationals took on the Atlanta Braves.

The National’s organization is very patriotic and incorporated the DC National Guard in their pre-game ceremony on opening day the past five years. They utilize military members into their ceremonies to appropriately honor our nation's military who serve in the Nation’s capital. 

Children of Servicemembers were on the field and greeted the starters as they ran onto the field. The U.S. Navy Band performed America the Beautiful prior to the game and the National Anthem in conjunction with the flag unfurling. Top generals representing all four services threw out the first pitch.

Two members of the National Guard were individually recognized prior to the start of the game.  Staff Sgt. Jenna Hall, Unit Training Manager with the 113th Maintenance Group, D.C. Air National Guard and Bronze Star Recipient, and Staff Sergeant Timothy Huggins, 58th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Maryland Army National Guard.

Staff Sgt. Hall was recognized for her service during Operation Iraqi Freedom and volunteering to serve additional time beyond her deployment in Iraq. 

“It’s an honor to be recognized in front of such a big crowd,” Hall said. “There are a lot of other Guardsmen who have done a lot of impressive things and I feel proud to serve with them.”

The attendance for the game surpassed 40,000.

“Being able to cover the field with a flag at an event like this is great way to showcase the D.C. National Guard,” said LTC Dewey Wiseman, Joint Force Headquarters, D.C. National Guard.

The Airmen and Soldiers who volunteered met at Nationals Field eight hours before the game for a 10-15 minute run-through for the opening ceremony. During this time, each Airman and Soldier was given a specific job to ensure the massive flag could be opened without touching the ground.  The flag was so large that it would literally cover a football field.

Despite all the down time between the practice and the actual ceremony Airmen and Soldiers maintained high spirits. 

Tech Sgt. Mike McKenna, Avionics, 113 Wing Maintenance Squadron, has participated in the past five opening ceremonies for the Nationals. 

"It's a privilege," McKenna said. “There's a tremendous sense of pride being on the field."

The Soldiers and Airmen had an incentive for volunteering for this assignment as they received tickets for the game in addition to standing on the field for the pre-game ceremonies.

As the volunteers made their way to the stands after the opening ceremonies, many encountered grateful fans. Soldiers and Airmen continually heard ‘thank you for your service’ from fans as they walked through the concourse and stadium.

Pride and honor seemed to be the theme for those who volunteered.
“Hearing the roar of the fans after the National Anthem is really heartfelt,” said Staff Sgt. John Griffin, a jet engine mechanic in the 113th Maintenance Squadron.  “It makes me proud to wear the uniform.”

I felt a lot of pride when the crowd roared as the flag opened,” said Tech. Sgt. Stephen Zakszeki, an aircraft electrician in the maintenance squadron.

Unfortunately the military presence at the game did not intimidate the Braves, who defeated the Nationals 2-0.

Despite the loss, Tom Davis, the event’s organizer for the Nationals, said the organization is grateful for the support the DC Guard has given them in the team’s first decade in Major League Baseball.

With temperatures in the low 40s and drizzle fans had to bundle up, and overcast skies kept the DC Guard’s 121st Fighter Squadron from doing an F-16 flyover, but Davis was happy with the military fanfare. A lot of work went into coordination of the flyover and everything else, he said, and that too was appreciated.

As far as the opening day loss goes, there’s always next year he said, and there is a lot of season left to get back at the Braves.

Lt. Col. Kevin McAndrews, DC National Guard Public Affairs, contributed to this report.

3/31/2011