Thursday, October 27, 2011

Syracuse students take a lesson from the military on flag etiquette

Syracuse • Do you have to go to war if you’re really sick? Where do you go to the bathroom in battle? Is there really a 13 o’clock in the military?
Hill Air Force Base soldiers fielded those questions, and more, from wide-eyed fifth-graders at Bluff Ridge Elementary as they taught one of the most fundamental lessons of U.S. citizenship: How to care for the flag.
Although some of the questions were a bit off-topic — yes, there is a 1300 hours, or o’clock, in the military — the five servicemen answered them just the same as they taught students the basics of raising, lowering and folding the nation’s flag.
It was a lesson — taught as part of the school’s U.S. history curriculum — that hit a particularly pertinent crowd at the Syracuse school.
“It is the fifth graders’ role and responsibility to lower the flag after school,” said Stacey Clark, an office assistant and adviser to the student council. “It is something they take pride in. They can learn about the flag from a book, but it is so much more substantial when they learn it from men in military uniform.”
The soldiers first demonstrated how to fold the flag in triangle-fashion, then divided the students into groups to practice.
“If you know how to fold a paper football,” Staff Sgt. Hazam Peralta said, “you know how to fold an American flag. Just start from your left and don’t let it touch the ground.”
The lesson then continued with pointers about hats and voices and feet when raising and lowering the flag.
“The flag is raised quickly and lowered slowly,” Peralta said. “If you are wearing a hat, it needs to be removed. Stand with your feet together and your hand over your heart. No speaking while it is being raised or lowered. The whole point is to raise and lower the flag respectfully.”
Fifth-grade teacher Julie Wood said the Air Force tutorial had considerably more impact on the students than simply studying the information in a book.
“I’ve talked about the flag and we’ve read about it,” she said, “but they are so excited today. This has so much more meaning.”
Adam Winfrey, a student, characterized the presentation as “cool.”
“We learned what the stars and stripes mean,” he said. “There were originally 13 stars to represent the 13 colonies. Now there are more, but there are still 13 stripes.”
That excitement was shared by fellow classmate Alyssa Eggitt.
“I learned how to fold the flag and then when it is halfway down on the pole it means someone important died. I have more respect for the flag now.”
Among the presenters was Airman 1st Class Daniel Callahan, who has been in the service for nine months.
“It’s important for children to have pride in their flag and to instill values,” he said.
Because of Bluff Ridge Elementary’s proximity to Hill Air Force Base, Principal Traci Robbins said the military addition to the history curriculum is a good fit.
“We have so many local families that are connected to the military,” she said. “I thought it would be beneficial for the students to have that connection with the Air Force. There is no better way to teach respect.”
Flag facts
When folded properly, the U.S. flag is shaped like a triangle with only a blue field of stars showing.
The flags on a military uniform are in reverse, so it looks like the flag is flying behind the soldier.
Those in military uniform salute the flag rather than put their hands over their hearts.
The flag, when flown at half staff, should be hoisted to its peak first, then lowered into position.
The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground or the floor.

© 2011 The Salt Lake Tribune
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