Academy holds first flag retirement ceremony

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Academy cadets, senior leaders and local veterans gathered to pay respect to 647 flags that needed to be retired from service during the Academy's first flag retirement ceremony May 22 on the Terrazzo.

The Cadet Honor Guard saluted and properly disposed old, tattered flags donated by the American Legion, Colorado Springs and USAFA communities in a dignified ceremony.

During the event, honor guard members raised and lowered a worn out 50-Star American flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and properly folding it before burning it in a pit.

"I wanted to watch the ceremony and show my support because I think when you get rid of a flag, it's essential to show respect," said Vincent Uribe, a Vietnam veteran and founder of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Warriors Motorcycle Organization. "At VFW Post 101, we had at least 500 flags that needed to be disposed in a formal and dignified way. It's great the Academy could do it."

The retired collection included 20 Colorado flags, three Navy flags, six POW/ MIA flags and one 13-Star Colonial American flag.

"We respected and folded every single one of these flags," said Cadet 3rd Class Jacob Cable, who organized the event. "Some of them were in worse condition than others. We folded them in a coffin-shape rectangle because that is what they deserved."

When a flag becomes ragged and torn, they need to be retired with dignity. The flag disposed during the ceremony represented the Union formed in 1776 as the nation's forefathers separated from the rule of the British Empire.

"This event took about a year to plan," said Mike Vagle, junior vice commander of the VFW and executive assistant to the Dean of the Faculty here. "I was an Academy Military Trainer for six years and know cadets like to participate in outreach activities. I contacted them and the Academy eventually took this on. I'm pleased with how it came together."

Maj. Gen. Greg Lengyel, the commandant of cadets, said it was an amazing event and probably the best cadet-developed plan he has seen.

"After two years as commandant, I have seen both the bad and the great things our cadets do," he said. "For a third-class cadet to develop, plan, research, understand and execute such an event was truly impressive. The entire honor guard team was incredibly sharp and reverent to our nation's colors."

Lengyel said he was so impressed by the ceremony-- he invited all 18 cadet honor guard participants to his office and presented each of them with a commandant's coin for excellence.

"I was filled with a renewed sense of pride in the future of the Air Force and our nation," he said.