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A Flag to Remember

Posted: 07/05/11 07:06 PM ET

This Fourth of July, we've seen a lot of American flags. The Stars and Stripes fly over the U.S. Capitol, hang from the porches of family homesteads and were worn yesterday on the T-shirts from parade-goers around the country. Icons of the flag have appeared everywhere online and in the corners of our TV screen.

But there is one version of the flag that we should take care to remember: A little patch worn on the right shoulder of every American soldier's utility uniform.

Until a few years ago, the Army only required the right shoulder insignia for troops that were deployed. Before and after their time in the theater of war, they removed the patch. In 2004, as a reminder that the nation is at war -- in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- the Army's soldiers began to display the Stars and Stripes on their shoulder at all times. It's a reminder that we all could use from time to time.

As the head of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation), I work with returning service members who have served to protect our nation, helping them obtain emergency grants and build their financial literacy skills, buy their first home, and provide free childcare for their children while they are recovering at our nation's military hospitals. Our programs aim to prevent medical emergencies from turning into financial hardships for our nation's defenders. It's a constant reminder to me that when the battle ends for our service members, our responsibility begins.

In my experience, the war undoubtedly stays with our troops and the many injuries of war require long-term care and support. The new Army regulations are right: the conflict is not like a patch that can be taken off of your uniform when you return home.

More than thirty-five thousand men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been wounded. Each person will need medical care for years to come and help as they re-learn how to make their way with new physical limitations. For many who prided themselves on their independence and physical strength, the mental adjustment will be the hardest part.

Even those who finished their service without injury need help with the various everyday tasks, from re-entering the civilian workforce to getting back into the rhythm of their family life. Service members who have served in more than one deployment may need to reset their roles as parents and spouses. They may find that their savings are not substantial enough for the down payments and closing costs required to buy their first home.

Not all of this assistance can come from the government. Some of it has to come from nonprofits such as the PenFed Foundation. Other help has to come from their friends and family. And some can come from all of us taking the time to recognize their sacrifice and service.

You can do this in ways, large and small. Take a minute to thank a service member or veteran in your family and ask them if there is anything they need. See if your church, synagogue, or other religious group can reach out to the families of its veterans.

And through the week as you gaze upon your star-spangled banner, don't forget to proudly hail the men and women of our armed services who ensure that it flies over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Christopher J. Flynn is president and CEO of the PenFed Foundation, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization working to meet the unmet needs of military personnel and their families. The Pentagon Federal Credit Union covers all labor expenses for the foundation so every dollar donated goes directly to supporting its programs. www.PenFedFoundation.org.