Early Wednesday, Janelle Uroff and 14 other local residents struck out on a 51-mile trek from Hondo, escorting a well-traveled U.S. flag to San Antonio, the next stop in a cross-country relay designed to promote unity in a time of divisiveness.
The Old Glory Relay, organized by Team Red, White & Blue, started Sept. 11 in Seattle and is scheduled to end on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, in Tampa, Florida. Members of the veterans service organization have been taking turns carrying the flag on its journey. In addition to this relay, the flag has been part of several overseas events hosted by the group.
This is the organization’s fourth annual relay. Ryan McKennedy, leadership, training and retention manager for Team RWB, said the theme of this year’s trek is unity and uniting people for a common purpose.
“People find it hard to find common ground and get along with each other,” he said. “We all come from different places, and that’s what makes us great.”
Adam Hartman, a USAA employee, agreed with McKennedy. Hartman, who has a son in the Navy, said he took part because there’s a great need to address the divisiveness that’s swept across the country.For Uroff, it’s about uniting veterans with their neighbors.
“The whole idea is it brings veterans back into the community,” Uroff, Army veteran and captain of the San Antonio team, said as she walked Mitchell Street above the Mission Reach Trail. “It gets us involved back in the community with everybody and not hiding away. Since we’re back in the real world, we get to join the real world.”
The group of 15 was in charge of Leg 39 of the 4,600-mile Old Glory Relay. Joining Uroff on this segment were other veterans, one of whom was also a Gold Star mother; active-duty members; reservists; and civilians. The veterans came from all of the military branches, although they represented different cultures and eras of service.
Some team members walked while others ran or rode bicycles, but each took a turn carrying the flag. Team members also carried the Texas flags and other U.S. flags.
The local group wound their way along the 51-mile route that took them past fields of scrub brush and three schools, where children gathered outside to cheer them on.
By the afternoon, they had reached their destination, VFW Post 76, the oldest post in Texas.
Several veterans and the VFW Post 76 post commander, Johnny Ornelaz, 68, greeted the team when its members walked up from the River Walk to the two-story Victorian home on 10th Street. Ornelaz, a retired San Antonio police officer and Vietnam Army veteran, commented that he regretted his back problems had stopped him from joining the relay team.
Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Robert Rangel, 62, said the Old Glory Relay hits close to home.
“We’re honored to have something like this here,” he said. “That means that we’re part of the tradition of celebrating the red, white, and blue and the stars and stripes that signify our freedom. Everything that the veterans have fought wars for is signified in what they’re doing.”
After a ceremony and barbecue at the post, the relay team members resumed their journey, joining a procession that included Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar and motorcyclists to take the flag downtown to the Alamo for a ceremonial folding of the banner, marking the end of Leg 39.
On Thursday morning, the next team will take over. Those 24 members will continue the cross-country relay from the Alamo to Houston.
Uroff said more than 70 teams are involved with this year’s Old Glory Relay.
McKennedy, 27, said staff members of the veterans service organization were joining the local teams, switching out every five to seven days. He had joined up with the relay in El Paso.
“I definitely wanted to be one of the thousands that get to touch the flag along the way. That’s something special — to be a piece of the puzzle that connects point A to point B. It’s a pretty awesome experience,” he said.