1st CAV in the Desert

I served as a Platoon Leader in the 13th Signal Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division during the first Gulf War. We deployed from Ft Hood, TX in October 1990 to Saudi Arabia and then Iraq for the short ground war in February 1991.

At age 23, it was strange and unsettling to spend Christmas away from my family and in the middle of the desert. The night skies were amazingly dark and full of more stars than I had ever seen. The occasional camel sighting did remind we of the three wise men headed to Bethlehem.

The last panel in Doonesbury cartoon below made me laugh. I found this newspaper clipping in my journal from 1990. I didn’t remember having it and probably haven’t seen it in over 30 years.

I was recently interviewed for the Rutgers Oral History Archives about my experience. Below is an excerpt from the transcripts.

KR:  At the end of your first interview, we left off talking about Operation Desert Storm.  What I would like to ask you about first today is, what are your recollections of Operation Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq? 

BS:  I think the biggest memory and impact was in January of 1991.  We had been in Saudi Arabia since October, just sitting, waiting for the invasion.  We were in northern Saudi Arabia.  I just remember when the ground war kicked off.  We didn’t have any news.  We didn’t have TV or radio like have today, but I do remember seeing and hearing these–they were called MLRS [multiple launch rocket system]–these rockets, and they went off many at a time, and the lights, just watching these rockets take off, knowing they were going north into Iraq as we attacked, and just thinking, “Wow, how much destruction and/or death is occurring at the end of that?”  It was really bizarre and surreal, but that was the only thing I remember and I saw at the time.  It was scary that first night.  We didn’t know if we were going to get attacked with Scud missiles that had chemical or nuclear/biological weapons.  We were mostly scared of chemicals at the time, but it could have been biological.  [Editor’s Note: On January 17, 1991, U.S. and coalition forces launched Operation Desert Storm with a campaign of air and missile attacks on targets in Iraq and Kuwait.]

I do remember the first night, and that was really the only night that I slept in my mask, my gas mask, and the full protective gear.  It wasn’t too hot.  It was January, luckily.

KR:  Were there any religious services when you were in Saudi Arabia or Iraq?  Were there chaplains around to do religious services or counseling? 

BS:  In Saudi Arabia, we were told to not have any outward displays of religion, Christianity, Judaism.  We did, in our tents, have some Christmas [trees], but, again, it wasn’t [extensive].  There were chaplains, but, again, they were told to not put their insignia on their uniform.  As I recall, the officers that were chaplains would have their rank on one side and then you would have your unit on the other, but I think they had either a cross [or] Star of David, and they were told to cover those.  I don’t recall ever talking to a chaplain, seeing them.  I suppose, if it was needed and someone needed counseling, we could have called into the DMAIN, the centralized rear command, and asked for it, but we didn’t need it.  The same for doctors and nurses and medical.  I’m sure these support units were there if we needed them, but I didn’t interact with them either.  We were forward operations. 

For women, we were in the frontlines with our communication vans.  In fact, there were Iraqi soldiers surrendering to some of the units that were in my platoon, and it was a woman that they surrendered to.  She was the sergeant of this little remote radio tower.  It was her and three other soldiers who were men, but Iraqi soliders surrendered to them.  For me, I was like, “Wow, a Muslim man from Iraq just surrendered to a woman, an American woman.”  That was kind of interesting. 

KR:   My next question you have touched upon a little bit in some other questions that we have asked you.  Once Operation Desert Storm was being launched and the invasion of Iraq, what were your experiences like and the experiences of your unit? 

BS:  Once the big launch in January occurred, we left our base, where we had been for many months in northern Saudi, and we convoyed north into southern Iraq.  We left in the middle of the night.  I just remember driving in this huge–it was a deuce and a half–a two-and-a-half-ton truck, very, very uncomfortable, for hours just driving north (20+ hours), but it was pretty exciting, because we knew this was the big thing we’d been waiting for. We’re traveling, and it’s exciting because we’re seeing other tanks and units from Britain and other countries alongside us traveling in the same direction.  Then, we got to a location, and we stopped.  This was where we were going to set up our communications.  I only have one picture from the whole war.  There was a burned-out military–it looked like a tank and it was an Iraqi tank and there were dead Iraqi soldiers on the ground.  It was taken out by a U.S. missile or an Apache.  My soldiers had to call and get body bags and put them in.  I made a decision that I didn’t want to see the bodies, the corpses, because I didn’t want it to stick in my mind.  I didn’t go near it, but we set up camp maybe a hundred meters away from that.  It was kind of creepy to be there.  We were there thirty, forty days.  We stayed there, and it wasn’t long before we won the war decisively.  We were all told, “Okay, time to go home now.” 

More stories and memories to come in my next blog.

Monsoon Winds & Stormy Memories from Saudi Arabia in 1990

I am excited to announce that in October 2022, I will be inducted into the Rutgers Oral History Archives- ROHA (https://oralhistory.rutgers.edu/) in New Brunswick, NJ. This is a great honor as my story will be documented and included with the accounts from hundreds of fellow veterans from the conflicts of WWII, Korea, Persian Gulf War, Cold War and Afghanistan.

In April 2022, two strong and articulate women from the Department of History at my alma mater, Rutgers University, interviewed me about my family history, campus ROTC life, and military experience in the Gulf War.

Me in Southern Iraq, February 1991

A bit about ROHA from their website:

Since 1994, the Rutgers Oral History Archives (ROHA) has been recording the life narratives of:

  • Alumni and/or New Jersey residents who served during times of conflict
  • People with a story to tell about New Jersey’s rich social and cultural history
  • Men and women who helped shape the history of Rutgers University

ROHA’s digital archive features 1,202 life course oral history interviews and over 32,000 pages of fully text-searchable transcripts.

Here’s the cover page of the first interview transcript.

RUTGERS, THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW JERSEY

NEW BRUNSWICK

AN INTERVIEW WITH BRENDA SMULL

FOR THE

RUTGERS ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVES

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY

KATHRYN TRACY RIZZI

and

GWEN ALLEN

PHOENIX, ARIZONA

APRIL 12, 2022

Below is an excerpt of my response to a question about my experience during Operation Desert Storm:

“I was there for about ten months.  Saudi Arabia and Iraq, in those months, there were seasons where there were monsoon rains and winds.  I’ll never forget, one time, I’m in my tent, and a huge windstorm came.  It literally blew the tent off me, and it’s just me on a cot in the middle of the desert.  That was quite interesting.  Everything you owned was in two duffel bags, so you didn’t have a whole lot of clothing.  We did have services that occasionally helped launder our clothes, but, oftentimes, we would wear the same pants for days, and I did not take a shower every day.  Then, when we went into Iraq, water was limited.  I remember, I went thirty days without a shower.  As a woman, that wasn’t as ideal.  We had birdbaths, but for anybody who’s been camping, birdbaths are good for like two or three days.  Thirty days is a whole other experience.  Again, I was young.  I survived.  It wasn’t that bad, but it was just very uncomfortable.  Your body doesn’t stop doing what it does, even though you’re at war in the middle of a desert.  That was that experience.  That’s why I was always envious [that] the Air Force people were in buildings, at least most of them were, and I didn’t get to be in any buildings.  

At the end, when we were leaving the country in April 1991, we went to Khobar Towers, which is actually famous because later, a few years after I was there, there was a big bombing there.  Khobar Towers were in Saudi Arabia, there was a big bombing, and I believe some were killed and injured.  I was only there for a week or two before they flew us back home.  That’s the story about that.  [Editor’s Note: On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb detonated near the Khobar Tower housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen members of the U.S. Air Force and injuring over four hundred American and coalition military personnel.  The Khobar Towers housed coalition forces engaged in Operation Southern Watch, the no-fly zone operation in Southern Iraq after the Gulf War of 1990-1991.
]”

Hidden Treasures, Golden Bonds

Bill donated a gold nugget and came home with a treasure named Chester.

On Saturday, April 30, 2022, five members of Ahwatukee Post 64 volunteered at a local event called Coffee and Rigs in the parking lot of C2 Tactical in Tempe, AZ.  Their mission was to increase awareness of the benefits of joining the American Legion and recruit new members. 

Post 64 Members (l to r) Al Hunter, Brenda Smull, Pete Meier, Bill Musik and Jack Armstrong

The Coffee and Rigs event was the first of its kind and featured eight vendors/organizations including:  Off Road Warehouse, Turtleback Trailers, Buff City Soap, the American Legion Post 64, Rubicon Rescue, Precision Sports Accessories, and Circle R Farm Food truck.

The Post 64 table of brochures, flyers, flags, candy and historical Legion caps also included tickets for two raffle prizes- a one year family package membership at C2 Tactical and a 2.2 gram gold nugget.

Bill Musik, a Vietnam veteran, donated the gold nugget and discovered a wonderful treasure in return and adopted an adorable dog named Chester from the Rubicon Rescue team two tables down. Chester was perfectly suited to Bill because of their compatible stages in life. Bill had wanted a more senior pet that he could care for through the rest of the dog’s life.

Bill and Chester relax at home. Photo by Steve Smull

C2 Tactical provided Post 64 with the generous one-year membership and has been extremely supportive of Phoenix area First Responders, Veterans and animal rescue organizations.  C2 Tactical is generous with donations of membership packages, classes, and range time when asked and this April event was the third time to they have had Rubicon Rescue host a table at their community functions.

Rubicon Rescue dogs. Photo by Steve Smull

Rubicon Rescue, a local non-profit organization, brought eight dogs and a litter of tiny kittens to the event.  It was great news to hear that four dogs, including Chester, were adopted that day.  Rubicon Rescue’s Mission it to save abandoned, abused and injured shelter animals and they certainly made a positive impact toward this goal.

This event is part of a new PR and membership campaign at the Post 64 and was spearheaded and attended by Al Hunter, Jack Armstrong, Bill Musik and Brenda Smull.   Our Post Commander Pete Meier also supported our efforts at the table.

It was a positive and supportive showing at the Post’s table and the happy, spirited, and appreciative rescue dogs warmed everyone’s hearts.  

A precious face waiting to be adopted. Photo by Steve Smull

A Special Veterans Day

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the headline and photo on the front page of my local newspaper the Ahwatukee Foothills News yesterday. There I was, standing in front of The Buzzed Goat Cafe wearing my Post 64 American Legion hat. The picture was taken after a speech I gave at my book launch party. One of the main focuses of my short talk was to share my experience in the US military and pay tribute to the veterans and honor their service and sacrifice.

I read aloud the excerpt below from my book Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate.

Here is the introduction summary of Chapter 6: Veterans and Remembrance.

“Heroes are people who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others.” 

-Oliver North 

The first veterans I admired were my father, uncles, and cousins that served in the U.S. Military. Most of them, my dad included, were deployed across the globe to fight for freedoms during World War II. Their strength and resolve inspired me to become a leader and a servant to others. They were my Strong Man role models.

The idea of selfless service was instilled in me at an early age as I watched my parents and my dear cousins Joey, Patty, and Richie, volunteer for countless events at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Although my small hometown was only a few square miles, it was home to not one but two veteran organizations—The American Legion and the VFW. Every year when I was growing up, our town would have a Memorial Day parade that concluded at one of these two posts. In my family, Memorial Day was a special day marked by a solemn remembrance ceremony in the local cemetery. 

My time on active duty in the U.S. Army in the early 1990s was relatively short and painless, but it left a lasting imprint on my perspective, leadership style, and values. 

After college, I learned of the “Duty, Honor, Country” mantra of the U.S. Military Academy. I never forgot the crucial importance of remembrance and respect for those who have sacrificed in service to their nation. 

The veterans I have encountered have a strong sense of integrity and commitment to their families, friends, and community. They are a tough and resilient lot who are some of the most kind, generous, and boisterous people I know. 

The Strong Man is my tribute to all people who have served their countries and communities. Please join me as I share some of my thoughts on this important topic. 

Happy Veterans Day!

Here’s a link to the newspaper article.

For more information, check out my website.

A Book Is Born!

I did it!

I published my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate, on Amazon today.

To those who have been following and reading my blog over the past 8 years, I thank you for your interest and support of my thoughts, ideas and stories.

Words can not express the joy and elation I am feeling today. This is my baby. My legacy. My tribute to my family, friends, fellow veterans, and Toastmasters.

Over the last few months I have created new content and stories to weave the last 8 years of articles together. The book has 8 Chapters (Epics/Themes) where I grouped the over 80 blogs.

The chapters are: Communications, Toastmasters, Creativity, Veterans, Gratitude, the 1980s, Agile, and Science/Health.

What is the book about?

  • Courage, Communication and the American Spirit
  • Strength, Tolerance and Respect
  • Balance, Perspective and Change
  • Science, Health and History
  • Gratitude, Remembrance and Joy
  • Truth and Common Sense
  • Heroes, Adventure and Fun
  • Veterans, Poppies and Honor
  • Creativity, Toastmasters and the 1980s

An amazingly talented young woman illustrated the book with a fun circus theme that my mascot Ernie the Hedgehog endorses. Kudos to Alex Delit Garcia for her great work.

I don’t know what is next but boy am I excited and energized to share this news with you.

If you would like to purchase this fun compilation with a new, creative adventure throughout, please click on the image below for your very own copy. Here’s the book’s website.

Thank you!

What’s It All About?

Since 2013, I’ve been sharing my thoughts, ideas and stories on this blog. I enjoy writing and will continue to post here with fun and interesting photos that are harder to share in a printed book.

As I have stated in my last post, I am about to publish my first book on Amazon and have been mentally preparing for the inevitable question- What is the book about?

Since Strong Words and Simple Truths is a compilation of nine years of articles on a wide range of subjects, the answer to that query is not fitting into my normally pithy response box.

During my bike ride this morning, I came up with the following bullets to describe what the book is about.

I hope to have it live on Amazon in October 2021. Please check out www.thecouragetocommunicate.com for more details.

  • Balance, Perspective and Change
  • Strength, Tolerance and Respect
  • Science, Health and History
  • Gratitude, Remembrance and Joy
  • Creativity, Toastmasters and the 1980s
  • Heroes, Adventure and Fun
  • Truth and Common Sense
  • Veterans, Poppies and Honor
  • Courage, Communication and the American Spirit
Illustration by Alex Delit Garcia

Now More Then Ever- The Importance of the American Legion’s Mission

In this time of Covid-19, the mission of the American Legion is more critical than ever. As the nation’s largest veterans service organization, the wide reaching programs should be increasingly mobilized to meet the members’ needs.

Two pillars of the American Legion’s mission statement stand out to me as being the most important during these challenging times:

  • Devotion to fellow service members and veterans
  • Advocating patriotism and honor

In this time of lockdowns, loneliness and isolation, we need the continued devotion to our fellow members to keep everyone’s spirits up. The health and wellbeing of millions of veterans is the focus and our selfless service to others will keep our communities strong. 

Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

In this time of disunion and polarization, we need to be advocating positive patriotism and honor.  By rallying around a common objective we can strengthen America in its battle against the coronavirus.

Now is the time to unite around our shared values and binding symbols, the stars and stripes of the US flag. Now is the time to set aside political differences and take care of each other.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The headwinds we face as a nation are great but I remain confident that we will overcome and rise to the occasion.   The United States has faced countless challenges in our 245-year history and the patriotic, generous and giving spirit of Americans won’t be shaken.

I’ll leave you with words from Johnny Cash’s song “Ragged Old Flag”

“In her own good land here she’s been abused 
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land

And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in

‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right

On second thought, I do like to brag
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.”

Photo by Steve Smull


Strong Connections, Healthy Brains

A 3 Point Inspection Plan for a Battle Ready Body

One of the things that surprised me most when I served in the US Army was the insane amount of time spent cleaning- whether it was cleaning our equipment, our weapons, our boots or the bathrooms,  it seemed like we always polishing, maintaining and recovering things. At the time, I didn’t fully understand and appreciate why there would be so much focus on Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services otherwise known in the Army as PMCS. The sergeants and officers in my unit were obsessive about this and we had these checks on the training schedule more days than not. And so my platoon did Physical Training (PT), inspections and equipment maintenance nearly every day. Why did we do this? To be in the best, most high performing condition and ready for battle.

Now let’s think about how many cars you’ve owned in the last 25 years? How many oil changes, tire rotations and maintenance checks have they had?  How many 15 point inspections were done?  How much time and money have you spent to ensure that your vehicle was in good condition and ready for a road trip?

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One of the things that puzzles me about American society today is how much time and energy people put into the care of their motor vehicles and how much less effort and focus is put into maintaining their bodies.

Speaking of bodies. So far on this planet, how many human bodies have you had?

Last I checked, we only get issued one body at birth.

The good news is, unlike a car or machine, our bodies are self-healing and adaptable, we just need to give them the proper care and attention.

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I am excited to share with you a simple 3 point inspection plan to help get your body battle ready.

One of my favorite bands of the 1970’s is Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and this is how you can remember the three points:

  1. Connect

  2. Care

  3. Recover

First let’s talk about the importance of Connections.  What I miss most about being in the military is the camaraderie, bonds and cohesion. I always felt like I was part of a supportive team.  Someone always had my back.  The value and benefit to having a strong circle of good friends and family should not be overlooked in today’s virtual world.

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Positive support, help and encouragement from others is shown to increase our immune systems.   People with a positive network of friends and family that they can personally connect with have longer life expectancies.

Organizations like the American Legion, VFW, Toastmasters International, Rotary Club, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) like the Military Veterans Network (MVN) at my company Charles Schwab help bring people together and promote common bonds.

 

The second point in the Inspection Plan is Care, specifically self-care.  We have all heard about the importance of eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated and getting enough physical exercise.  I’d like to highlight and focus on two other factors that have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing- Sleep and Stress.  The importance of a good night sleep cannot be overstated since stress and sleep are often inversely proportional.

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Quality sleep plays a vital role in the body’s ability to heal and repair itself and is necessary for the brain to rebalance by clearing out harmful toxins.

Recover is the third point in the plan and involves rebalancing and restoring your body, brain and mind each and every day.   I find this to be the most interesting area with the discovery and application of new science and technology.   Advances in neuroscience have fueled the emergence of new Brain Performance centers across the country.

Last year, I took part in a six month program for military veterans at a Vitanya Wellness center in Tempe, AZ where I experienced the benefits of reducing my stress, increasing my sleep and restoring my neural balance through a combination of brain health supplements and brain wave entrainment devices. By consistently taking care of myself and leveraging these new techniques and protocols, I found that my resilience, mental sharpness and memory improved in ways I had not thought possible.  For more information click here.

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Technology aside, there are many things you can do each day to help yourself to recover and rebalance including yoga, meditation and other restorative activities.

One of the things that perplexes me most about my fellow humans is their ability to learn and gain so much knowledge about what is good for their health and well being and then how rarely, if ever, they apply it!

It is my hope is that you will remember the importance of a daily PMCS- just like I did while I was in the Army.

Take care of the one body you were issued at birth because there is no plan B- there no spare one sitting in your garage.

Do your Preventative Maintenance Checks and Service and the daily 3 Point Inspection to have a battle ready body for as you travel in your journey of life you will encounter twists and turns and the inevitable steep hill.

Know that positive connections, proper self-care and recovery can give you the strength and resilience to power through the tough days and overcome whatever obstacles cross your path.

Connect, Care and Recover with spirit and zeal.

Take care of your amazing organic being and let it take you on the ride of your life!

 

Opening Opportunities for Veterans- The LEGION Act

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There’s good news for US military veterans who want to connect with their community and be part of a strong veteran’s service organization. The eligibility requirements to join The American Legion have been modified and more people are now able to join.

The recent change is thanks to the LEGION Act which was enacted in July 2019 and will open the door for approximately 6 million veterans.

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The LEGION Act stands for Let Everyone Get Involved In Opportunities for National Service will enable more people to join the American Legion and gain access to its benefits and programs.  Click here for more information on the LEGION Act.

Now that the legislation has been signed, The American Legion’s eligibility criteria changes from seven war eras to two:  April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918, and Dec. 7, 1941 and continuing . No other restrictions to American Legion membership are changed.

The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to community service and assistance.

With over 2 million members and more than 12,000 posts in communities throughout the United States, the Legion is the largest nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization.

Ahwatukee Post 64 is a very active in the local Phoenix, Arizona community and provides many volunteer services and support throughout the year, including:

  • Honor and Color Guard – over 50 events and ceremonies last year
  • Collection of used US flags and proper retirement
  • Benefits Assistance
  • Family Support
  • High School Oratorical Contest and Awards
  • Arizona Boys State sponsorship
  • School Awards and Scholarships
  • Homeless Outreach
  • Comfort for the Recovering
  • Honor and Remembrance ceremonies (POW-MIA)
  • Adopt-a-Street volunteering- Elliot-Warner Loop clean-up

For more information on The American Legion, click here.

To check out the Ahwatukee Post 64 website, click here.

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Members of Ahwatukee Post 64 Color Guard

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Strengthening our Social Fabric

‘Twas the night before Flag Day

And all through the pub.

Not a soldier was stirring,

Just the Chef and her grub!

 

The food was amazing,

The stories were grand.

Our fabric was strengthened,

We all loved the band!

I wrote the poem above after the contents of this blog were published in the Opinion section of my local newspaper, the Ahwatukee Foothill News and on the website Legiontown.org.

Here’s the original post.

Some would say that the fabric of American society is fraying due to decreased civic engagement and increased political polarization.  Last week I witnessed the complete opposite.

It was the night before Flag Day and I saw the strengthening of social bonds in a local restaurant where thirteen veterans and their spouses came together to share fun, stories and some delicious Irish stew.

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This positive and festive social gathering brought together US veterans from three generations to share in the spirit of camaraderie and strengthening community involvement.

 

Members from the Charles Schwab Military Veterans Network and Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 met at the Irish Hare Pub and Restaurant in Phoenix for some fun, food and story telling.

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Here our common values rallied about an important piece of cloth that symbolizes the unity and strength of our country- the flag that we have all pledged allegiance to.  The red, white and blue fabric on our table reminded us that we are Americans first.

We came together and toasted to our freedom which none of us will ever take for granted.

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It warmed my heart and gave me hope that people from different generations, professions, political leanings and walks of life can come together in a spirit of positive bonds of affection and shared experiences.

 

The Irish Hare is a great venue for social events, dinner and music and we all appreciated the support from the Proprietor Heidi Hamor who thanked us for our service and contributed to the raffle prizes with a snazzy, green shirt.  Other fun raffle prizes from the American Legion Post 64 included a US Flag and fun, patriotic cowboy hats.

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It was a simple yet spirited event that renewed my faith in the strength of local community bonds that are the underlying support for the fabric of our society.  I was happily reminded that I live in the United States of America where our flag is appreciated and rallied around in times of peace and war and serves as a common symbol of our shared principles and values.