As part of Pine River-Backus School's annual Veterans Day celebration, Staff Sgt. Todd Penkhus, of the Army National Guard, who served in Kuwait, presented a flag flown over Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Patriot Day, Sept. 11, 2019, as part of Operation Spartan Shield.

The flag came with a certificate dedicating it to his daughter, Lauren Penkhus, and the Pine River-Backus class of 2022.

"While I was serving overseas in Kuwait on active duty, we had the opportunity to honor those we thought of as special at home and to provide them with something that means a great deal to us American servicemen and women - an American flag that had been flown over CENTCOM headquarters," Penkhus said. "CENTCOM headquarters is the place where all allied military operations in the Middle East are directed, from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. I was granted the opportunity to fly this flag I'm presenting today on Sept. 11, 2019, Patriot Day - something you really can't log in and get on Amazon.

"I chose to honor my daughter and her class by providing something to leave their mark on their school for a long time to come. Hopefully they can come up with a cool place to hang it or many classes can come and see it and know the class of 2022 was something special," he said.

Penkhus also donated flags to the Pine River American Legion, the Jenkins VFW, the Pine River Fire Department and Kenny King, a fellow veteran and former firefighter who worked alongside Penkhus on the Pine River department. The flags serve as both a reminder that Penkhus was thinking about those back home and of bringing home a piece of his duty overseas.

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Hannah Barchus and Emily Hanneken perform a traditional table ceremony honoring US Soldiers who did not come home during the Nov. 11, 2021 Pine River-Backus Veteran's Day event.
Contributed / Charity Crannell
Hannah Barchus and Emily Hanneken perform a traditional table ceremony honoring US Soldiers who did not come home during the Nov. 11, 2021 Pine River-Backus Veteran's Day event. Contributed / Charity Crannell

"You're over there where your family doesn't know or understand too much," Penkhus said. "They don't understand the conditions you're in. You're there to serve a purpose. It represents giving a little piece of deployment to your family or the American Legion. It's part of a thank you and part of an honor to share what you did for deployment or whatever task it was."

Penkhus, his fellow soldiers and his commanders sought permission to fly these special flags for their special people back home and received permission from headquarters. That's how they ended up in Pine River.


" I chose to honor my daughter and her class by providing something to leave their mark on their school for a long time to come. Hopefully they can come up with a cool place to hang it or many classes can come and see it and know the class of 2022 was something special."

— Todd Penkhus.


The Pine River-Backus School flag will be on display in a showcase to be determined. The American Legion has several showcases where they could also display their flag, but have not confirmed where it will be. The Jenkins Veterans of Foreign Wars is having their flag encased in a display to be hung on the wall. The Pine River Fire Department will display their flag in the fire hall.

Operation Spartan Shield is an ongoing operation in the Middle East under Operation Enduring Freedom, which started in Syria when a Russian vehicle allegedly rammed a United States Mine Resistance Ambush Protected vehicle. U.S. Army Central says "Operation Spartan Shield and Task Force Spartan maintain a U.S. Military posture in Southwest Asia sufficient to strengthen our defense relationships and build partner capacity."

The operation includes active Army, National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve members, and air support from 28 units.

U.S. Army Central also says: "Units supporting OSS provide capabilities such as aviation, logistics, force protection and information management, and facilitate theater security cooperation activities such as key leader engagements, joint exercises, conferences, symposia and humanitarian assistance/disaster response planning."


" It represents giving a little piece of deployment to your family or the American Legion. It's part of a thank you and part of an honor to share what you did for deployment or whatever task it was."

— Todd Penkhus.


This was just one part of the school event that was emceed by Chloe Andrus and Lauren Penkhus. It included a color guard presentation, high school choir rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," the Pledge of Allegiance as well as a fifth- and sixth-grade choir rendition of "Because of You & for the Good of the Many," by Theresa Jennings.

Emily Hanneken read Cheryl Dyson's poem "Veterans Day," and the high school band and choir sang "America the Beautiful."

As part of the annual tradition, there was also a table ceremony, commemorating those veterans who lost their lives in service to the country and a recognition of all the staff who served, including Karl Flier, Steve Sandeen, Jim Niskanen, Jacob Wilkinson, Tom Sewall, John Rister, Marvin Plenkkenpoll, Rod Knight, Fred Fey and Rusty Lockhart.

The event concluded with "Armed Forces on Parade" performed by the high school band, a flag closing ceremony and taps.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.