June 5, 2006

By JESSE HAMILTON,
The Hartford Courant  

FALLUJAH, IRAQ -- They can't raise the
American flag here.

The Marines aren't supposed to act like an
occupation force in Fallujah, so they can't fly the
symbol of the U.S. from the pole they erected.

Sure, they couldn't resist at first. The red, white
and blue was up briefly, an illicit morale boost. But
since then, it's been the Marine Corps flag flying in
the dusty wind from their makeshift flag pole -- a
streetlight in its past life. The stars and stripes
have instead hung in the entryway of Charlie
Company's building.

The prohibition against the American flag didn't,
however, extend to state flags, a detail 1st Sgt. Ben
Grainger took advantage of. He pulled some
Marines out of the building to watch him
temporarily retire the Marines' red flag for the blue
of Connecticut.

It stood out, blue against blue sky in the brisk
afternoon wind. Grainger laughed at what the
neighbors might be thinking.

"They're gonna be all confused," said the career
Marine, recently transplanted to Enfield. He added,
"The more we can confuse our neighbors, the
better."

He has been struck by the level of support from
Connecticut for the Plainville-based Marine
company. Day after day, boxes loaded with
everything from beef jerky to pillows to shaving
gel to laptop computers fill the hallways of their
building. Enough snack food to ease the shortage of
hot meals. Enough candy to cause tooth decay in a
generation of Fallujah's children.

Everything he has asked for from the support
network, he has received, and more. It's for that he
gladly raised the blue flag.

The next day, a mortar attack pounded the vehicle
yard in front of Charlie Company's building.
Shrapnel crippled a few trucks and flattened a
dozen tires. A few shards flew skyward, piercing
the flag. Now, in the Marines' eyes, it's official.

"We're Connecticut's Marines."
.