BKW to receive U.S. flag that once flew over Mogadishu in school’s honor

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

On Memorial Day, Nathan Stempel presents the flag that flew in Somalia to his alma mater, Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

BERNE — A United States flag will come home to the Hilltowns this Memorial Day, when Lieutenant Commander Nathan Stempel, an East Berne native and Navy officer, presents it to Superintendent Timothy Mundell of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District as part of the Hilltown Memorial Day celebrations. 

The flag once flew over the United States embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia — where Stempel was forward deployed to help bring stability to the region — after Stempel arranged to have it raised in honor of BKW, his alma mater, from which he would receive care packages sent by students and their teachers.

“While stationed in Mogadishu, we would get mail dropped off at random intervals after it was sorted in Djibouti and couriered down on a military flight,” Stempel told The Enterprise in an email this week. “All the soldiers and sailors looked forward to mail delivery days as the highlight of the week (or month if authorized flights were limited).  On several occasions I received unexpected care packages from community members.  

“I am not sure how they knew what to send but they were awesome!” Stempel continued. “There was no real access to supplies in Mogadishu so a box with fresh toothbrushes and snacks went a long way to boost morale! On one occasion I received packages from several BKW classes (Mrs. [Caitlyn] Cranker, Mrs. [Brittany] Malone, Mrs. [Lauren] Griggs and Mr. [William] Dergosits). They were very thoughtful cards wishing myself and the other sailors and soldiers well through the holidays.” 

In response to the kindness of his community, in April of 2020, after purchasing an American flag from a Naval Exchange in Djibouti, Africa, Stempel tapped on his relations in the United States Embassy in Mogadishu to have it flown for a day “as a symbol of freedom and hope in a country that is struggling from decades of conflict,” Stempel said. 

The flag comes with a certificate made by U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto that commemorates the event. 

“I have been holding onto the flag and certificate ever since having hand carried it from Mogadishu, back through Djibouti, to Norfolk Virginia where I returned to the United States, then back home to Massachusetts,” Stempel said, “and now the Memorial day parade is the perfect opportunity to present it at its final destination.” 

“Having it donated to the school would ensure it had a place of public visibility to remind people of the sacrifices military members and their families make, and the ability communities have to support those families in times of need,” Stempel also said.

Mundell told The Enterprise that the flag will be displayed in a showcase in the school’s lobby, along with an information card that provides context for its significance. 


Giving, back and forth

As Stempel explained, the flag will be a symbol not just for the country’s most romantic values and what they might mean to countries in crisis, but also the sacrifices made to uphold those values and the recognition of those sacrifices by those who remain safe at home.

The packages Stempel received are part of a larger effort spearheaded by Caitlyn Cranker, an elementary school teacher at BKW, whose third-grade classes carry out daily acts of kindness for 15 days each year, focusing on a variety of recipients but always including veterans and active-duty military members, Cranker told The Enterprise.

“We started this program to show students that they can have a positive impact on the world around them through simple acts of kindness,” Cranker said. “The students are so excited to find out who they are going to ‘gift’ every day and enjoy making a plan to carry out these acts.”  

“By sending cards to people who serve or have served in our community, this also allows for the students to see other possibilities for their futures and to be inspired by people they can relate to.”  

Cranker said that Stempel — who, like Cranker, graduated from BKW in 2001 — was a “wonderful fit” for the program since she was aware in 2019 that he was stationed in Somalia and “would not be home for the holidays.”

Stempel said of the gifts, “A package of such unselfish support is touching, endearing and inspiring in so many ways. Each memory of home was a brief release from the war-torn environment I had become normalized to living in.”

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