Local "Stars for our Troops" project

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Stephanie Strader is on a mission to place a star from a retired U. S. Flag in the palm of every veteran, current military personnel, and first responders in recognition for their service to our nation. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

In an effort to recognize our military and veterans so they know they are not forgotten, and to thank our first responders for all that they do, Susan E Wells, Founder and President of Stars for our Troops is utilizing retired United States Flags and re-purposing the stars as tokens of appreciation.

Each star is presented to the recipient in a small plastic bag with a message of gratitude that reads: "I am part of our American flag that has flown over the U.S.A. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds have caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that YOU are not forgotten." 

Hometown connection

Stephanie Strader of Guttenberg has joined forces with the organization and is on a mission to place a star from a retired United States flag in the palm of every veteran, currently serving military personnel, and first responders in recognition for their past and ongoing service to our nation.

Stephanie's lineage includes a long list of veterans beginning with her grandfather, an 82nd Airborne Paratrooper who landed on Normandy Beach, and was part of the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camps in 1945. 

Her parents, Barbara and Steven Eglseder, are both Navy veterans, her husband, Todd, was in the National Guard, and her son, Conor, is currently serving his country as a member of the United States Air Force. She also has aunts, uncles and cousins who are in the military.

Stephanie is employed with Keystone as an audiometerist in the Dubuque area. Her son, Caden, is a senior at Clayton Ridge School. 

"I grew up honoring members of the military," she began. "My dad was always active in the Amvets, and I attended a lot of flag burning ceremonies, and helped with the ladies Auxiliary chicken soup dinners. I used to climb up Estes Point with my dad, Luke Smith and Kurt Bierman when I was a kid to swap out the flag when it needed to be replaced."

When Stephanie's son left for bootcamp three years ago she experienced mixed emotions in his absence. "I was so proud of Conor and also worried for his safety – as any mother would. My emotions would ebb and flow, and I felt I needed a purpose to stay positive," she explained.

Stephanie searched online and found starsforourtroops.org. "I didn't join the organization without doing a lot of soul searching," she told The Press. "In my heart I wanted to make sure it was okay to remove the canton and cut out the stars before the flags were properly disposed of. My research indicated the Department of Defense was onboard with the project, and a couple of veterans who are near and dear to my heart thought it was a great idea. It made me feel better about cutting into a retired flag."

Area veterans have been very supportive of Stephanie's project. "I appreciate being informed when there is a flag burning, or a veteran's gathering or special event so I can share the stars and the message of gratitude that is included with each packet."

Volunteer opportunities

There are fewer than 300 volunteers covering the United States and six or fewer in the state of Iowa with the starsforourtroops.org project.

"There are many ways to assist with this project. We need individuals to cut out the cantons and the stars, cut out the slips of paper that are included in the packet, package the stars, and launder the cantons before the stars are removed," she listed. "You would be surprised at how many stars you can cut out and package if you have a handful of people and one hour."

For anyone wishing to donate flags Stephanie noted, "All discarded flags must be made in the USA and the stars must be embroidered for veterans who may be vision-impaired."

For additional information, volunteer opportunities or if you would like to show your appreciation to a veteran, military personal or first responder find Stephanie on Facebook or e-mail at sstrader@gmail.com.

"I carry stars with me all the time just in case I run into someone who has served, or currently is serving our Country!" she shared. "On one occasion my husband had to give up the star he carries in his wallet to present to a Veteran that had been wounded in Afghanistan. It was a very emotional moment for all involved," she concluded.

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