U.S. service members and civilians stand at attention July 2 during the annual U.S. flag-raising ceremony at Rota Naval Station, Spain. While raising the flag is a daily occurrence on most U.S. military installations around the world, the Spanish navy base permits the U.S. flag to be raised only once a year, usually to celebrate Independence Day. (MCC William Clark/Navy)
ROTA NAVAL STATION, SPAIN — The American flag went up early Wednesday at this Spanish naval base in a short ceremony that marked the only time the Stars and Stripes will fly here for another year.
Airmen, Marines, sailors and soldiers stood in formation in the cool morning while speakers blasted “The Star-Spangled Banner” in an annual tradition that dates back years.
The U.S. agreement with Spain forbids flying the American flag on base except for once a year — historically in the days leading up to America’s Independence Day.
With Old Glory flapping in a steady breeze overhead, Navy Capt. Gregory Pekari, commanding officer of the more than 3,000 U.S. service members on base, told the crowd to reflect on the cost of freedom and not forget those still in combat zones as they celebrate the nation’s 238th birthday over the next several days.
“Share some of our traditions with our Spanish hosts,” Pekari said.
Dozens of spouses and children of those stationed here came out to see the American flag, which folks back home can take for granted.
Jackie Samuelson, who is married to a Navy lieutenant at Rota, said she and her husband changed their holiday plans in order to participate in the event.
“It’s such a special day. It brings a sense of unity to the base,” said Samuelson, who, like most of those gathered, wore red, white and blue.
“It’s one of the only days of the year we get to show our pride,” said Elizabeth Hepp, who is married to a Navy gunnery officer.
Laura Jones, the wife of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Alan Jones, brought the couple’s five children, ages 11, 10, 8, 5 and 3. They’d been up since 6 a.m. for the 8 a.m. ceremony — all of them donning colors of the flag — for Laura Jones’ favorite event at Rota.
A.J., the 11-year-old, pointed out that the flag really flew this year — last year there was no breeze.
“It kind of feels like home,” the technical sergeant said.
Festivities were planned for the rest of the day including a concert by David Cook of American Idol fame and a fireworks show.