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N.H. Airmen climb in memory of Sept 11, 2001 victims

Chief Master Sgt. Scott Taatjes (center) recites a non-denominational prayer,  Bond Cliff, Lincoln, New Hampshire Sept. 14, 2013. The personnel, from the New Hampshire Air National Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing participated in the annual Flags On The 48 event which is s memorial hike to commemorate 9/11.  (Courtesy photo Richard Blais)

Chief Master Sgt. Scott Taatjes (center) recites a non-denominational prayer, Bond Cliff, Lincoln, New Hampshire Sept. 14, 2013. The personnel, from the New Hampshire Air National Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing participated in the annual Flags On The 48 event which is s memorial hike to commemorate 9/11. (Courtesy photo Richard Blais)

Members of the 157th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron pose for a photo during the annual Flags On The 48 event, Bond Cliff, Lincoln New Hampshire Sept. 14, 2013.   The event is a memorial hike to commemorate 9/11.  Pictured left to right: Senior Airman Sterling Howard, Chief Master Sgt. Scott Taatjes, Lt. Col. Adam Shattuck, Senior Airman Christopher Ager, Steven Shattuck, Lisa Rogers (a hiker from Manchester, N.H.) Tech. Sgt. John Seguin, and Master Sgt. Richard Blais. (Courtesy photo Richard Blais)

Members of the 157th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron pose for a photo during the annual Flags On The 48 event, Bond Cliff, Lincoln New Hampshire Sept. 14, 2013. The event is a memorial hike to commemorate 9/11. Pictured left to right: Senior Airman Sterling Howard, Chief Master Sgt. Scott Taatjes, Lt. Col. Adam Shattuck, Senior Airman Christopher Ager, Steven Shattuck, Lisa Rogers (a hiker from Manchester, N.H.) Tech. Sgt. John Seguin, and Master Sgt. Richard Blais. (Courtesy photo Richard Blais)

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- Members of the 157th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron paid homage to the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacts by participating in the annual Flags On The 48 event on September 14th.

"This is so we don't forget.", said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Taatjes, who coordinated the hike. "You see it already that people are already starting to forget about what happened on 9/11."

Flags On The 48 is a memorial hike which commemorates and honors the events of September 11, 2001. The event now held every year was the brain child of several hikers who carried a large flag up Mt. Liberty after the first 9/11. The annual event has now been expanded to all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000 footers.

The hike was Taatje's fourth time participating and first time as a coordinator. The Chief was asked by one of the administrators to take charge of the peak. "We hike up as a team", said Taatjes. "Everyone takes a piece or shares a piece of hauling up this flag pole, the flags themselves, the ropes. It's (got to) be a team effort. One guy can do it but it's a lot to put on person. It's hard to put a flag by one, you (got to) be pretty talented".

The N.H. Air National Guard team consisted of Taatjes, Tech. Sgt. John Seguin, Master Sgt. Richard Blais, Senior Airman Sterling Howard, Senior Airman Christopher Ager, and Lt. Col. Adam Shattuck. Also hiking with the group were Steven Shattuck (son of Lt. Col. Adam Shattuck) and Lisa Rogers (a hiker from Manchester, N.H.) This rugged outcropping, 4265 ft. above sea level, is located deep in the Pemigwasset Wilderness of the White Mountain National Forest. Bond Cliff alongside the nearby peaks of West Bond and Mt. Bond are commonly referred to as "The Bonds".

Each peak is given a coordinator and 10-person team to set up the flag. The flags are raised on the peaks and left up for only two hours, in accordance with the 'Leave No Trace' policy. Individuals wanting to become team members pick a peak and a team and sign up on the Flags On The 48 website. Anyone can hike the peaks but the team members are responsible for bringing the flag, hoisting it, and taking it down.

"It was a cool experience," said Howard. "I've never been part of anything like that in my life. The longest hike I've ever did in, my life."

Half the members of the team gathered at Big Rock Campground on Friday, where they camped overnight. Some members of the team like Blais left his house at 2:30 a.m. the day of the hike.

"That's the level of dedication for these guys knowing you have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to make it there to hike 21 miles", Taatjes said.

The next morning, their twenty-one mile trek took them from the Wilderness Visitors Center off the Kancamagus Highway to the Wilderness Trail, which intersects the Bond Cliff trail. They left at 6:12 a.m. with headlamps on in order to get the flag up on the summit by noon. The last of them got to the summit at 10:45 a.m. but some people were twenty minutes ahead. The pole was up by 11:15 a.m. and the flag was ready to be raised at noon. They returned from the hike approximately twelve hours later, at 6:12 p.m.

The summit was obscured with clouds, rain, and 25 mile per hour wind gusts.

"We didn't go up there for the view", said Blais. "We all knew what we went up there for. We knew we had to get up there one way or another."

Blais added, "We got the flag up as a unit. We raised it. There were other hikers who passed through that area. They were impressed. Most hikers didn't even know what the reason for the flag was that we were raising but once they found out, we made it aware why we're raising the flag at this particular time and it's been happening several years. I think they were really impressed just to witness it".

Chief Taatjes recited a non-denominational prayer for 9/11 that was sent to base members by wing chaplain, Lt. Col. Robert Cordery.

"What really set the whole tone, when the Chief offered the prayer and started that ceremony and it lead into the moment of silence and a solemn remembrance of what happened and why were there and how many other people are partaking in it", said Seguin. "It was really impressionable and sobering that we're on one of those peaks doing just that."
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