Flag symbol ‘of all the things that we can do for veterans in our community’

By Emily Gallagher Times West Virginian

MONONGAH — Steven Clark had a lot on his mind Wednesday.

As he participated in the Old Glory Relay as it made its way through the region, the U.S. Army solider remembered the time he spent in Iraq.

That made his participation in Wednesday’s event even more meaningful.

“The flag has a special meaning for me personally because it’s a symbol of veterans who have served the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “There was a time I was deployed in Iraq, and we lost a captain who was a friend of mine to a vehicle IED in March 2004.”

Clark, who is from Morgantown, was one of several members of Team Red, White & Blue who participated in the nonprofit’s Old Glory Relay as it came through the North Central West Virginia region Wednesday. The relay started on Sept. 11 in San Francisco and will end in Washington, D.C., next week, with 59 teams across the country moving a single American flag on a 3,540-mile journey.

During his portion of the relay, Clark thought about the veterans he served with and all the veterans who are not getting the services they need or don’t know in which direction to go.

“The flag is a symbol for our nation,” he said. “It made me think of all the things that we can do for veterans in our community.”

Clark wasn’t the only one who carried the American flag from state to state. Leading the way from Salem to Morgantown on Wednesday were other members of the Morgantown chapter of Team RWB.

Brandi Davis, the social director of the Morgantown chapter of Team RWB, said being part of the nationwide relay is exciting and helps raise awareness of veterans.

“The flag that we’re running through here is the exact flag that started in California,” she said.

Starting in Salem on Wednesday, Davis said the flag came from Parkersburg and a ceremony was held around 6 a.m. to officially pass the flag to the Morgantown chapter. From there, using rail trails and roads, different members of Team RWB ran and biked the flag for several miles.

Davis said they took the flag through Shinnston, stopping at Lincoln High School. There, the flag was met by students and was placed for a few minutes on the flagpole before heading toward Worthington.

Using mostly the rail trail system in Marion County, the flag was handed off in Worthington and again in Monongah.

Frank Sulzer, a firefighter from Avalon Fire Department near Pittsburgh, was one of the individuals who passed the flag off in Monongah. While running with the flag, Sulzer wore his firefighter pants and jacket. Attached to his jacket was a badge honoring the men and women who passed away during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“My brother was killed in 9/11,” Sulzer said as he caught his breath after passing off the flag. “This is for him.”

Sulzer passed the flag to Brandon Blender, who is a member of the National Guard. Blender then ran the flag from the Monongah Volunteer Fire Department to Edgeway Drive near Country Club Road in Fairmont.

During the relay, Davis said if an area is too dangerous to run in, a road bike is used. She said the flag is properly folded and placed in a backpack for the biker to carry.

Blender passed the flag to David Wray, who is in the military and biked the flag to Fairmont Avenue.

After placing the flag on a pole, Davis and Katie Chiasson-Downs ran the flag along Fairmont Avenue, across the Third Street Bridge and onto Merchant Street. Patrina Supler then grabbed the flag as it continued its journey to Morgantown.

The flag is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 8 and will be presented to the White House.

Team RWB is an organization that connects veterans to their communities through social and physical activities. Its main goal is to give veterans a safe place to work out and be social without being judged.

For more information about Team RWB, visit www.teamrwb.org.

Email Emily Gallagher at egallagher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.