Vets, supporters, carry flag across Houston during cross-country relay

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By the time the runners clear out of downtown Houston Monday morning, they will already have carried their flag for more than 3,000 miles over the last six weeks.

But it will take another three weeks and hundreds of miles more before runners reach the end of the relay, in Tampa, Fla.

Every year, Team Red, White, and Blue’s runners carry an American flag across the United States, during the organization’s “Old Glory Relay,” one of the non-profit’s most visible efforts in its mission connecting veterans with each other and their communities after finishing military service.

The relay began on Sept. 11, in Seattle. Over 62 days, runners, cyclists and walkers from more than 70 teams of veterans, active servicemembers, and civilians, carry the flag 4,600 miles across the nation until reaching Florida.

“It just brings people together,” said Donnie Starling, a Team RWB spokesman. “When I put a flag in your hand and say ‘go run,’ you’re going to smile. You’re going to enjoy it.”

Runners had arrived on the western outskirts of Houston by Friday, moved through the city over the weekend, and were set to push 55 miles east, to Devers, by the end of the day Monday.

The route is several hundred miles longer than last year’s, Starling said.

Brandi Peasley, 45, had helped carry the flag with several friends Saturday, as the relay neared Houston.

An Army Reservist for more than two decades, she now works in facilities management for a local oil and gas company.

She got involved with Team RWB in 2011, she said.

“I was just fascinated by opportunity to meet other veterans or people interested in what vets have done,” she said. “It’s a unique friendship …You automatically have something in common, a common language”

When she travels for work, she know she’ll have friends to back her up.

Though she’s participated in other Team RWB events numerous times over the last few years, she’d never run in the coast-to-coast relay, she said.

“It’s about the team,” she said. “This kind of relay just takes it to the next level.”

Philip Swift, 33, went on two tours to Iraq during his time in the Army reserves.

When he first returned from his deployments, he found himself struggling to acclimate back to civilian life — so much so that he went back to Iraq as a military contractor.

“I was scared to be out in the world,” he said, recalling a sapping depression. “It didn’t feel normal.”

Years later, he now works in digital advertising for a local car dealer and has a wife and two-year-old daughter.

The story of the flag’s perseverance particularly resonates with him after watching Houston withstand the battering of Hurricane Harvey. The storm had flooded out his childhood home in northwest Houston, and he’d watched fellow veterans leap to action to try to help stricken communities, he said.

“Here in Houston, we saw it. … The flood came up, the water went away, the city of Houston was still here,” he said. “Everybody got back up, cleaned off their boots, and went back to work.”