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NEWS | May 14, 2014

Operation FLAGS introduces deployment process to Randolph Elementary School students

By Alex Salinas Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

About 300 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from Randolph Elementary School accomplished a special "mission" called Operation FLAGS May 8 at the campus where they experienced what it's like for their active-duty parents to leave for a deployment.

Operation FLAGS, which stands for Families Learning About Global Support, was organized by the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Military & Family Readiness Center and made possible with the help of more than 60 JBSA volunteers. The event has become an annual tradition at JBSA-Randolph.

"We walked them through four different stages of deployment to simulate what 'mom and dad' will do at some point in their military careers," Master Sgt. Joe Ugarte, JBSA-Randolph M&FRC readiness NCO, said. "It's important they understand this aspect of the military early on."

Students began in the school's gym where they were assigned to a squad, received a mission briefing and were handed gear including dog tags, airman battle uniform tops and helmets. Members from the Air Force Band of the West performed in the gym, playing tunes to keep everyone's morale high during this phase.

Master Sgt. Zachary Christman, a 359th Medical Group first sergeant who's been deployed four times, said "this is a good way for kids to learn what their parents go through. It's eye-opening."

After the squads marched outside to the Combat Arms Training and Maintenance weapons display and learned about firearms used downrange, they lined up to execute their mission of tracking down a "bad guy" with help from military working dogs and their handlers.

As the youth "redeployed" back into the gym, volunteers clapped, cheered and waved flags to signify their homecoming.

Master Sgt. Ty Reyes, an Air Force Personnel Center installation support NCO in charge, said "some of the kids were nervous, some were excited, but they enjoyed seeing the weapons, watching the dogs and catching the bad guy."

From the first to last station, the Operation FLAGS tempo was high. Each squad leader volunteer kept his or her group hollering throughout the event, often sparking friendly competitions to be the loudest squad.

"Everyone was fired up and motivated the students," Edward Padilla, Randolph Elementary School coach, said.

"Operation FLAGS gave children an opportunity to have fun learning an important lesson about what happens to their military parent when they leave them to serve their country on a deployment," Ugarte said.