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Flag Of Freedom

Southwestern Alumni Gives Special Gift

Pictured is an AH-64 Army Apache helicopter flown by Charles Leonard. Submitted photos

With all of the emphasis on stay-at-home orders in recent months, many Americans are growing restless. As a result, it can be easy to forget about the many Americans who are, in fact, not able to do so — not because they are sick or disregarding COVID mandates — but because they are far away from home answering the call of duty by serving our country.

However, this past Memorial Day, Southwestern was given a heartwarming reminder of these honorable men and women — an American flag flown overseas during an active military mission by one of Southwestern’s own, former student and current Army Lt. Charles Leonard.

Charles (friends and family call him “Chuckie”) graduated from Southwestern in 2012 where he was a member of the varsity football team, ski club, and National Honor Society. He was also the recipient of the James Matteson Scholarship Award.

After earning a degree in exercise science from the University at Buffalo in 2016, he was commissioned to the Canisius College Golden Griffin Battalion ROTC program as an Aviation Officer in the active duty Army.

“I joined because of the camaraderie, the challenge, the leadership opportunities and the diversity of jobs available,” Leonard said. “I entered the service during my junior year of college after realizing that I was no longer interested in pursuing a career that applied to my undergraduate degree. The military allowed me to pursue a career that was unconventional and rewarding.”

Leonard is currently a platoon leader and AH-64E Apache helicopter pilot with 1-227 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion stationed out of Fort Hood, Texas. As part of his work, he has since been deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel and Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

While in the Middle East, he has taken American flags on various missions. When asked why, Leonard referenced the article “Aviators Have a Unique Way of Saying ‘Thanks,'” which states, “There are various reasons the aviators take a flag up with them on a mission, whether it is for family or friends, groups they used to be a part of….” To service members, the flag, which can be a powerful source of pride and unity for people, is very symbolic.

The flag that he gave to Southwestern accompanied him, along with co-pilot Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jose Olivero, aboard an AH-64E Apache helicopter on a mission over Iraq on January 21, 2020, as part of Task Force Ragnar during combat operations in support of American and Coalition forces against hostile enemies of the United States during Operation Inherent Resolve.

The certificate of authenticity given to Southwestern states, “This flag represents our dedication and steadfast devotion to duty in the fight against the global war on terrorism.”

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