Group Puts Flags in Servicemembers' Pockets

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2007 - Since 2002, Project Prayer Flag's goal has been to put an American flag into the pocket of every American servicemember fighting in the global war on terrorism.

"For us it's very simple," Shawn Black, founder of the Irvine, Calif.-based organization, said. "We've shipped over 220,000 (flags) now to servicemembers."

Those miniature American flags come as part of the "Patriot Packs" the group sends to servicemembers, Black said. The packs also include a letter or a thank you card.

Project Prayer Flag is a member of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights how Americans and the corporate sector are supporting the nation's servicemembers.

The idea for the Patriot Packs started shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when Black was serving as an undercover federal air marshal. A colleague was deployed to Afghanistan and Black wrote him a letter. But he also remembered the small American flag his grandfather, a veteran of the battle of Normandy, carried with him and had handed down to Black's father.

"I thought, 'What if I take a small American flag, just a little hand-held flag off a stick, and I put it in there with the card and mail it to him?'" Black said. "(It was) just my way of showing appreciation for my friend."

That friend requested enough for the rest of the servicemembers in his unit and, "from there it just grew and grew by word of mouth," he said.

Project Prayer Flag has since started Operation Christmas Care, a program that has a family adopt a unit and send a personalized care package at the holidays. The adopting family is encouraged to keep up correspondence throughout the servicemember's tour.

Those tours are a little more pleasant thanks to some Major League Baseball teams and Project Prayer Flag's Operation Grandslam.

Black initially contacted the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team with a request for a donation of baseball equipment for the servicemembers fighting in the global war on terrorism. After not making much headway, he turned to Louisville Slugger, a major baseball bat manufacturer. With that move, he was batting a thousand -- $10,000 worth of gloves and bats, to be exact.

"But it got better from there. ... The Angels called me out of the blue one day," Black said. The team donated uniforms, baseballs, bats and batting helmets.

The Colorado Rockies sent thousands of dollars worth of baseball gear recently, and the Atlanta Braves have expressed interest in getting on board with Operation Grandslam, he said.

Additionally, the Rockies sent Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig a letter informing him of Operation Grandslam.

Black said the group's membership in the America Supports You program has opened many doors and lent the group credibility.

"We can't thank America Supports You enough," he said. "With Operation Grandslam ... once they knew we're an America Supports You member, they said, 'Well, I've heard nothing but good things about this group, and I know you guys are legitimate.

"So (membership) kind of separates the wheat from the chaff," Black said.

Black, however, gives a majority of the credit for the program's success to the more than 400 volunteers that make it tick.

"It's the volunteer's project," he said. "We really see the heart of America in the actions here."

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