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ASU staff take pride in caring for flags

August 21, 2008

J. Carlos Escudero loves the sight and sound of the American flag waving in the wind.

Therefore, he is thrilled that raising and lowering the flag is part of his duties as a corporal in the Police Department at ASU’s West campus.

Raising, lowering and maintaining the flags is one of the “unseen” jobs carried out at all of the ASU campuses. But those who take care of the flags do so with pride.

At the Tempe campus, groundskeepers maintain the flags on Gammage Parkway and at the Community Services Building.

“We regularly have the flags cleaned. When they are worn, they are burned in a special ceremony,” said Ellen Newell, associate director of Grounds Services.

“We always have two sets on hand. An 8-by-12-foot U.S. flag costs $176.99, and we buy them from Air-A-Zona Flag Company, who also cleans and repairs them.”

(An Arizona state flag costs $335.85, while an ASU flag is $347.02, Newell added.)

So far this year, Facilities Management at the Tempe campus has spent $6,827.05 maintaining its flags and poles.

The campus flags are such a normal part of the campus scene that no one usually remarks upon them until they are lowered to half staff.

Then, said Ted Woods, assistant supervisor for grounds, everyone wants to know why they are lowered, and who gave the order to do so.

The answer, he said, is that the Governor’s Office sends out an e-mail directive when the flags are to be lowered.

A spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office said flags are lowered when an Arizona serviceman or woman is killed in the line of duty, or when a police officer loses his or her life.

At Polytechnic campus, the facilities management department also has always purchased flags for the campus and paid to have them repaired and cleaned, and groundskeepers raise and lower the flags as needed.

Occasionally, there is a special request from a military family whose loved one served at Williams Air Force Base, now the site of the Polytechnic campus.

Sharalyn Barnby, an administrative assistant with the Business and Finance Department at Polytechnic, said recently a military family asked that a flag be flown over the former base’s Parade Grounds, which are now used for flag football games and other informal campus events.

“Normally I don't get involved in the day-to-day raising of the flag. This particular time, however, I and two others raised the flag, took pictures, lowered the flag, folded it returned the flag to the family.

“It was an honor to be part of a flag raising ceremony that held such meaning for this family and do a little something special for one of our American veterans. This was a small gesture but one greatly appreciated by the family.”

West campus’s Escudero, who has worked for the ASU Police Department since 1995, said he has “always respected the flag and what is stands for and had a general understanding of flag protocol,” but had never worked with a large flag until the first time he had to change the flags on 47th Avenue.

“It was a very windy day and I was assisting a Sergeant. When it came time to lower the U.S. flag I was bound and determined not to let it touch the ground.

“As the flag slowly lowered I grabbed one end and tried to roll it up into my chest with one hand while grabbing the other end with my free hand.

“As I was doing this, I created a kind of a parachute when the wind caught the flag. Back then I only weighed about 160 pounds and my feet began to drag over the gravel. I thought I was going to take flight for a second. I did not take flight but it was a struggle to get the flag into the car.”

Escudero said he always take time to reflect on the sacrifices made by the police officer or military person being honored when the flag is at half-staff. “A lowered U.S. flag also prompts me to reflect on September 11,” he added.

For Tempe groundskeeper John Rush, taking care of the flags can be an emotional experience, particularly after ASU receives a message from the Governor. “Depending on if it’s for the death of a cop or soldier, I get a little bit of sadness when putting the flags at half staff,” he said.

Though the general ASU population may not take much notice of the flags, there is one group that does.

“Veterans watch the flagpoles like hawks,” Newell said.

“And our groundskeepers dote on taking good care of the flags.”