Stars and Stripes fly on the 16th green this year to salute military

04/18/2013 8:31 PM

04/19/2013 4:25 PM

Something new will bring fans to attention this year at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing .

Or at least it should.

The American flag is flying on the pin at the breezy 16th hole at the Harbour Town Golf Links.

When a caddie pulls the pin, he takes it to a uniformed Navy Jr. ROTC cadet standing at attention by the fringe.

The cadet, a student from Hilton Head Island High School, then stands at parade rest, the flag stick tilted forward, as the PGA Tour players chip and putt.

When the last ball is putted out, the caddy takes the pin from the cadet and replaces it in the cup. The cadets always give and receive the flag with two hands, following a protocol that fills a full sheet of paper.

The ceremony is part of a PGA Tour program to honor the military in a nation that has sacrificed more than 6,600 service members in the Middle East during the past decade.

Cadet Jennifer O'Hara said, "I feel like we're guarding the flag. We're showing everyone that it means something. We're also showing love for the country and our love for the Navy."

As of Thursday afternoon -- the first day the program was in place at the Heritage -- one player went out of his way to show support. All have been respectful and polite, but defending champion Carl Pettersson removed his cap and shook hands with the cadet as he left for the 17th tee box.

School was out for the cadets Thursday and will be again today, but eight volunteered to tend to the flag. They work all day in two-hour shifts. They stand throughout their shift, either by the bleachers or at the edge of the green.

The student volunteers are Kara Klein, Jake Novitski, Victor Jimenez, Brittany Hartwig, Ginger Masis, Brandon Brinson, Fisher Smith and O'Hara.

On Saturday and Sunday, active-duty service members will do the honors.

Heritage volunteer Jack Wilson, a retired Navy captain, coordinated the program with help from Bill Wagner of the Heritage Classic Foundation staff.

Wilson said it is part of the PGA Tour's Birdies for the Brave program, which has used the pin flag in other tournaments and raised millions of dollars for veterans.

The American flag is flying at the 16th hole because that's where the Patriots' Outpost skybox is located -- a place to rest, eat and watch the action for active-duty military and dependents, wounded warriors, and veterans, on a space-available basis. The skybox served 558 people last year, and Wilson wants that to increase by 50 percent this year. It was off to a good start on a warm Thursday, with several drill instructors from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and their wives and children among the full house. The skybox is sponsored by Berkeley Capital Management, led by a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran. The presenting sponsor is Coastal States Bank.

"It brings a lump in my throat just to see these kids doing such a commendable job," Wilson said. "They're very serious about it."

Sr. Chief Petty Officer Reulito Gonzalez, who heads the 130-member NJROTC program at Hilton Head High, said, "We are honored to be asked to do this. It is a chance to show our patriotism, do something for the community and represent our school."

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