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Ortner returns home, visits American flag PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kyle Arnoldy   

More than two months after surprising his mother from across the globe on Veterans Day with an Air Force flown American flag, 1st Lt. Steven Ortner has finally returned to Holyoke.

Although stationed in England at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath base at the time, Ortner played a large role in Holyoke High School’s annual Veterans Day program in November. Ortner managed to send a 10-by-20-foot American flag home to be presented to his unsuspecting mother, HHS Principal Susan Ortner, during the program.

With a little help from his father, Dan Ortner, Steven was able to ensure the Veterans Day program was extra memorable.

What followed was a sincere scene of emotion with Susan holding back tears as she realized the role her son played in the surprise.

1st Lt. Steven Ortner stands in front of the giant American flag he was responsible for bringing to Holyoke High School.  

—Enterprise photo

Steven entered the HHS gym to see the flag hanging on the east end of the building for the first time Wednesday, Jan. 29. Recently, LED lights were placed on the flag so that it will remain in the spotlight at games, even at wrestling duals when the lights are turned off.

“I wanted something for the school to be proud of because I think the American flag can be something to look up to at volleyball or basketball games,” Ortner explained. “It was something more for the community than for me.”

The flag still ignites the same emotional reaction for Susan as it did nearly two months ago.

“It’s just really special,” Susan explained. “Our veterans do way more than anyone realizes, and it’s a real honor to have somebody think that much of the school to send something back that has been in battle and war. To have the forethought to do that, and having it be my kid is special.”

The flag was flown over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It traveled on a United States Air Force Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter and was flown on Aug. 13, 2013, Steven’s 27th birthday.

Eyes are immediately drawn to the massive American flag on the east end of the HHS gym. The previous American flag was the same size as the Colorado flag.

—Enterprise photo

The Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopters were used from May 21-Aug. 3, 2013 for a search and rescue mission. Twenty-two lives were saved, and 113 medical evacuation assists took place on the mission. Three heroes were able to return home, and two enemy prisoner of war transfers also resulted from the mission.

Ortner was deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan from May-September last year. For the last three years, he had been stationed in England. He has been an aircraft maintenance officer for nearly four years.

Susan admits that the flag is a cherished part of the HHS gym, but the best gift was her son making it home from Afghanistan safely.

After a month-long stay in Holyoke, Ortner will head to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.

Holyoke Enterprise February 6, 2014