A project started a few years ago by Emmetsburg High School Principal Fred Matlage to bring a touch of home to personnel deployed overseas has brought the Emmetsburg E-Hawks to Europe in an interesting way.
Matlage, who taught history prior to coming to Emmetsburg, had started a practice of having students write holiday cards to members of the armed forces as part of an exercise in Civics, as well as a way to impress upon students some of the sacrifices made by others to guarantee the freedoms of life in the United States.
"I had students write holiday cards when I first came to Emmetsburg, and then contacted the Pentagon to have them forwarded on to some troops deployed overseas," Matlage explained. "Through this process, I was put in touch with Colonel Packard Mills, who is originally from Washington State. We've never met person to person, but we've kept in touch via e-mail."
E-HAWK?FLAG?IN?NORWAY - Retired U.S. Army Colonel Packard Mills displays an Emmetsburg E-Hawk flag at the Three Swords in Stavanger, Norway. The flag was a gift from the E-Hawk Athletic Booster Club to Mills, who assisted EHS?Principal Fred Matlage with an project to send holiday greetings to U.S. troops on deployment. -- submitted photo
According to Matlage, the cards from the students were sent to Col. Mills, who had them distributed to troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of those troops replied back to the students in return, and one of those responses proved to be very poignant.
"After one set of letters to troops deployed in the Middle East, the troops asked if the students could send an American flag to them to fly over their base, as they were not allowed to bring flags with them, out of fear that the residents of the country where they troops were deployed would perceive the flag as our government trying to take over," Matlage said. "The students sent the flag to the troops, and I think that really meant a lot to the kids, and the troops as well."
In the meantime, Matlage remained in touch with Col. Mill, who had served several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and with the NATO Command before retiring from active military duty.
"Last year, Colonel Mills sent me an e-mail explaining he was retired from active duty, but is working for the military and is currently on Temporary Duty to the NATO Joint Warfare Center," Matlage said. "He mentioned the holiday cards and how they had meant so much to the troops. I thought it would be a neat idea to send him something from Emmetsburg that he could keep as a remembrance."
As word got out, the Emmetsburg Athletic Boosters donated an Emmetsburg E-Hawk flag to Matlage to send to Colonel Mills, and Mills has begun taking the E-Hawk flag with him on his Temporary Duty assignments throughout Europe, and much like the children's "Flat Stanley" adventures, the E-Hawk flag is now being displayed in various locations around the world.
"Colonel Mills has begun sending pictures of the E-Hawk flag as he serves our country overseas," Matlage said. "Just recently, he sent a photo of himself and the flag at the Three Swords in Stavanger Norway."
As Mills is living in Germany, he will be temporarily assigned to several locations throughout Europe, according to Matlage. "Since he's now serving on a Temporary Duty at the NATO Joint Warfare Center, in the coming months, he's said our flag will be on display at NATO Commands in Sofia, Bulgaria and Riga, Latvia."
Matlage continued, "Whenever Colonel Mills travels to a new location in Europe, he's promised to send a new photo of the E-Hawk flag wherever he is stationed. When he sends me those new photos, I'll place them on the Emmetsburg Community Schools website."
That address is: www.e-hawks.org