Scout pilots CW2 CJ Jones, left, and CW2 Eric Ries hold an American flag they flew in a mission over Baghdad, Iraq on Oct. 15. The flag and a pair of Reis' flight gloves used in 100 missions will be put on display at the AM VETS post on Kalifornsky Beach Road this month.
Photo provided by Jim Ries
An American flag that accompanied an Army reconnaissance mission over Baghdad will soon find a permanent home at AM VETS Post No. 4 in the Red Diamond Center near Soldotna, in thanks for a care package sent by the post to a 1st Cavalry Division helicopter unit stationed in Iraq.
A "retired" pair of flight gloves worn by the pilot who flew the mission also will be displayed along with the flag. The pilot is Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Ries, the 33-year-old son of Kasilof's Jim Ries, finance officer for Post No. 4.
"I've sent out 45 care packages, so far," said the elder Ries, who is grateful for the assistance he has received from people in Kasilof, Soldotna, Kenai and the AM VETS post in donating items for the packages and paying to ship them to troops overseas.
"We send them to whoever's name we can get ahold of," said Ries, adding that packages have already been sent to American service people stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq and "anywhere they're at."
The packages contain snack food items such as moose jerky, hard candy, summer sausage, jelly beans and tuna in pouches and music DVDs and MP3s. Magazines and hometown newspapers also are in demand, as are international telephone calling cards.
In a thank-you letter sent to the AM VETS post, Chief Warrant Officer Ries said, "I wanted to return the kindness, so I purchased an American flag from our (post exchange store) and took it up on a mission with me and personally flew it over Baghdad.
"I also enclosed some pictures, a certificate of the mission and dedication to my fellow aviators that have given their lives here, and a pair of flight gloves I've retired from service."
Jim Ries, an Army veteran himself who served in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, said his son has been in the Army for 16 years and plans to stay in another six.
"He was due to come home in March, but I understand they've all been extended two months," said Jim Ries.
Home for the helicopter pilot is near Fort Hood, Texas.
Knowing how appreciative soldiers are to receive almost anything in the mail from home, the elder Ries set about putting together the care packages and began soliciting names of Kenai Peninsula people who are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I've received over $300 from the Kasilof Mercantile to help with postage and over $1,000 from the AM VETS," Ries said.
"I want to thank everyone for helping keep the care packages going," he said.
People wishing to contribute to the cause may take items to the Kasilof Mercantile or the AM VETS Post No. 4 off Kalifornsky Beach Road, and may donate money for postage if they wish, according to Ries.
He also needs more names of troops to whom he can send packages.
"I need their names and full military address along with their APO number," Ries said.
"If people want to send Christmas cards along with the packages that's OK too," he said.
"It doesn't even matter if they're too late for delivery by Christmas. The troops appreciate getting any mail."
Ries said he is in the process of building a showcase for the American flag and the flight gloves, which will be put on display in the AM VETS post as soon as he's finished.
In addition to sending care packages, the elder Ries said he corresponds regularly with his son by letters or e-mail.
"I try to correspond at least once a week, but sometimes not as often, if he's busy," he said.
The warrant officer, who pilots a KIOWA attack helicopter, has flown 300 missions.
Called "Big Gun 76," his helicopter, which carries a weapons load of 14 2.75-inch helicopter propelled rockets, flew its mission carrying the donated flag Oct. 15. The predawn flight conducted reconnaissance and security for the 1st Cavalry Division and other members of the Coalition Forces.
Ries' co-pilot is CW2 CJ Jones.
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