A Tale of Two Flags

by Maj. Gen. Randal D. Fullhart

Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Hotel Company; photo by Kathy Fullhart

On the spring Caldwell March, first-year cadets in Hotel Company posed with two flags that mark a collaboration with a Foreign Advisory Support Team that counts among its members Jared Johnson, a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent whose son, Bridger Johnson, is a Hotel Company cadet. Photo by Kathy Fullhart.

The pride that the Hokie Nation holds for its servicemen and women dates back to the origins of the university. That relationship is symbolized in today's Corps of Cadets and showcased in many venues around campus, from Lane Stadium to the Holtzman Alumni Center to the new residence halls that will soon house the corps.

Many of our cadets come from military families whose members have served in the longest sustained period of conflict in our nation's history. Bridger Johnson, a freshman political science major and first-year cadet in Hotel Company, is a case in point. His father, Jared Johnson, a government service special agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), has been deployed to Afghanistan since January as part of a Foreign Advisory Support Team (FAST).

Foreign Advisory Support Team member Jared Johnson

Foreign Advisory Support Team member Jared Johnson (above, right) is a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent whose son, Bridger Johnson (below), is a Hotel Company cadet. Photo above courtesy of Jared Johnson; photo below by Kathy Fullhart.

Virginia Tech cadet Bridger Johnson

The team's mission is to deploy worldwide to assist countries in their ongoing wars against local drug trafficking—trade that can result in the export of illegal drugs to places such as the United States.

In Blacksburg, meanwhile, first-year cadets in Training Company 2-4 in Hotel Company had the idea of making a flag to represent their cadet organization and sending it to Bridger's dad and his team in Afghanistan.

The plan was for FAST to photograph the flag flying in Afghanistan before returning it to the cadets, who would carry it with them on the spring Caldwell March. (Under the leadership of selected upperclassmen, first-year cadets complete the 26-mile march in two segments, one in the fall and one in the spring. The march retraces the steps of Addison "Add" Caldwell, the first student-cadet to enroll in 1872 in what was then Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, today's Virginia Tech.)

To create the flag, the cadets approached a member of their unit, Zachary Lanman, a freshman mathematics major whose mother is an accomplished seamstress. Lanman's mother soon finished the flag.

In return, FAST decided to see the cadets one flag and raise them another. The team designed a flag and asked a tailor in Kabul—who often helped them repair uniforms during deployment—to make the flag.

The cadets mailed their flag to the team. Upon arrival, the flag was carried by Johnson during Operation Red Queen, a March 22 mission in the Sherzad district of Afghanistan. The mission was a joint operation between FAST, Afghan National Army commandos, and the Afghan National Interdiction Unit. The operation was a great success, destroying two large heroin labs and approximately $600,000 worth of drugs and drug-making materials.

Both flags were then sent to the cadets, who proudly carried them on the spring Caldwell March.

Meaningful to all involved, the flag exchange is just another example of the global connection between the corps and others, military and civilian, serving around the world.

Maj. Gen. Randal D. Fullhart, U.S. Air Force (retired), is the commandant of the Corps of Cadets. Cadet Rebecca McAfee, a senior majoring in economics with a minor in leadership studies, who commissioned in the U.S. Army this spring, contributed to the article.

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