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Marine takes well-traveled flag to Iraq

6 May 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Master Sgt. Christobal D. Cowan and his American flag have been traveling the world since 1989.

Cowan, operations chief for 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, received the 8-feet-long-by-5-feet-wide flag during his tour as a Marine security guard at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile.

"It was the first night I stood duty there," said Cowan, of Tucson, Ariz. "The embassy got bombed by some local terrorists."

The bombing took place at around 1 a.m., so no one except Cowan and a Chilean security guard were near the explosion. The Chilean suffered minor facial wounds and recovered soon after.

Normally, the flags flying over the embassy there were replaced with clean flags once a month. After the bombing, the Marines began a new tradition.

"Since I was on duty the night of that bombing, they decided to give it to me instead of burning it," he explained.

His next duty station was at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, where his flag also flew.

Over the next 15 years, that same flag went to every country Cowan set foot. It went with him to Joint Task Force-6 at the Texas-Mexico border and Somalia.  Cowan took it with him on several deployments to Okinawa, Japan, South America, Kosovo and most recently to Iraq.

Cowan said he doesn't bring the flag for his own use.

"When I was with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit last year, I got to fly my flag on the USS Nassau on Christmas Day for about an hour," he said. "That was really great."

When the 24th MEU stopped in Kosovo for about a month, Cowan donated his flag to the camp there because the unit had no other flag to fly.

Now he is here until September. His flag is hung inside the battalion's command operations centers only because orders restrict him from displaying it outside.

"I try very hard to follow proper flag etiquette. When I put it away, I fold it properly," the father of three boys said. "Some sticklers might cringe when they see it displayed, but I have to work with what I can. I display it with the utmost respect for the flag and what it stands for."

Cowan said some of the Marines ask him about the flag from time to time because most don't realize there is a history behind it.

"I never understood the story about the flag," said Cpl. Aric R. Van Hoosear, battalion intelligence chief. "Knowing that Master Sergeant Cowan has taken the flag from deployment to deployment makes it more unique."

The reason Cowan exhibits flag to the entire battalion is to instill a sense of pride for America and what the country represents.

"Liberty, freedom and democracy. That's what the flag represents to me," Cowan added.
Van Hoosear, of Santa Maria, Calif., said he gets a deep feeling of freedom and strength when he sees the flag each day.

"It helps to remind me about all the Marines and soldiers who have given their lives protecting America," Van Hoosear explained.