Flag carried on Afghanistan combat missions presented to 16th Police District
by BRIAN NADIG
An American flag which was carried on combat missions in Afghanistan was presented last weekend to 16th District police officers for their efforts in collecting 150 pounds of candy for a U.S. Air Force unit that later suffered casualties in a suicide bomb attack.
A month after a picture was taken in November showing 16 airmen smiling and holding the boxes of candy, six of them were killed while on patrol outside of Bagram Airfield.
Despite the tragedy, other members of the unit carried through with their promise to thank the Chicago police officers. Several members of the unit were New York City police officers.
Melissa Brunelli, whose son Gregory served at the airbase and is now stationed in the United States, presented the flag to Chicago police lieutenant John Garrido during a Sept. 10 ceremony at the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce’s “Throwback Music Fest.” It was always the unit’s intention to thank the Chicago officers by sending them a gift, Brunelli said.
There was no store where the unit’s members could buy toiletries and snacks for themselves, Brunelli said.
“I put something on Facebook, and a lot of my friends started sending little things,” Brunelli said during the ceremony. “Little things like this coming from home do not mean much for you and I, but for them in a foreign land it does.”
Portage Park resident Tricia Lombardo was one of Brunelli’s friends who posted a message about Gregory on Facebook, prompting Garrido to start the candy drive. The donations were accepted at the 16th District Police Station, 5151 N. Milwaukee Ave., Allstate Insurance, 5717 N. Milwaukee Ave., and Battery Giant, 4837 N. Milwaukee Ave., and shipping costs were donated by the UPS Store, 6348 N. Milwaukee Ave.
“People from the community and police officers across the city started bringing candy into the station. The response was incredible,” Garrido said.
A location to display the flag, which is folded inside a case with a plaque, has not been determined. “That’s a serious flag, and we’re honored to receive it,” Garrido said. “I want to treat it as a solemn thing and with the respect it deserves.”