A Stars & Stripes Story
The majority of Americans look to the flag with respect. Old Glory represents patriotism but is not just a symbol of the land we love and in which we live.
Edmond’s own Chad Hemphill looks to the flag and is thankful. Hemphill graduated from Edmond Memorial in 1997 before heading to the University of Central Oklahoma where he played baseball for two years then transferred to Oklahoma State University to play for one more year.
September 11, 2001 changed all that.
Hemphill joined the Army, graduating from boot camp as the distinguished honor graduate out of a class of 255. His parents were proud.
“My family was very supportive of my decision,” Hemphill said. However, Hemphill added, "They were still parents and did not want me to go, especially into the unit that I was trying out for,” which happened to be the Rangers Airborne Division Long-Range Surveillance Detachment.
In January of 2003, Hemphill was deployed to Iraq where he would spend 14 months. He described the location as “a twilight zone” where temperatures reached a sweltering 140 degrees during the day and dropped to 65 at night.
Hemphill’s team spent six months conducting missions in different desert regions before spending eight months in mountainous terrain, “patrolling the Sunai Triangle—where Iraq meets with Turkey, Syria and Iran.”
He explained that, contrary to what the majority of the US media reports, most of the population in the area actively supports our military’s cause.
Hemphill said he went into the situation with no expectations, just a mind focused on his task. Without any expectations, Hemphill felt free to react to each unique situation he faced.
“When you set expectations, you usually are shocked when reality hits,” he said. “I felt like allowing myself to expect certain things would hinder my abilities as a soldier.”
While overseas, Hemphill said he missed his family and friends as well as “radio, toilet paper, real food, women (my unit was all men), television and movies.”
“It is so amazing how the little things are the things I missed most in the beginning, but the less I allowed myself to think about these things, the better I was able to perform my job,” he said. He added that many items were eventually received in care packages from home.
One of Hemphill’s most memorable encounters took place in Baghdad, and thanks to a patriotic gift from his father, a former Green Beret, he is alive today to share the tale.
Hemphill’s six-man team was conducting a five-day mission before the city had been secured. The team entered Baghdad at night. Their mission: to document the daily patterns of a top member of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
On the fifth day, two Apache helicopters were sent to destroy the target, the man’s house, in this case. The team was only 25 yards away—way to close for comfort—when they heard the choppers circling for the “gun-run.”
After several unsuccessful attempts at radio contact with the pilots, Hemphill and his team made contact with headquarters, alerting them of the problem.
“By then it was way too late for anybody to get in touch with the pilots,” Hemphill said.
Desperate, Hemphill reached into his pack, pulling out a flag that his father had given him. He recalled that the gift was given with the instructions “to just keep it with me.” The team huddled together under the stars and stripes.
The helicopter pilots saw the flag and immediately aborted the mission.
“Thanks to my father, my team got out of there safely and the next day the mission was carried out with 100 percent success,” Hemphill said. “Where the confusion was, is still to this day unknown to myself and my team.”
Hemphill came home in March 2004, having achieved the rank of Sergeant and devoting four years to serving our country and everything for which the flag that saved him stands.
“I thank God everyday for bringing me home safe to my family,” he said.
Today, Hemphill reports that his life could not be better. His military career blessed him with a greater appreciation for life and what he might otherwise take for granted.
“I have my normal life back only with amazing, life changing experiences behind me that I will always remember,” he said. “I have seen and felt how very fragile our lives are and learned to live each moment as if it were my last. We are never guaranteed another minute in this world.”
Hemphill is working with his father, Jim, and mother, Kaye, in their family’s business, Hemphill Construction Company, which he plans to take over in the near future, in order to "give my dad a well deserved break.”
“My Father has been building and remodeling in Edmond since 1982 and my only desire is to continue his good name and quality work in the way he would want me to,” Hemphill said. “The same effort I put into my military career is the same effort I will put into my work now to make Edmond a better place to live.”