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NEWS | July 6, 2016

Long may I wave: The voice of Old Glory

By Staff Sgt. Ciara Gosier 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

"I fly atop the world's tallest building; I stand watch in America's halls of justice," said retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Deborah Rothwell, as she stood tall with her head held a little higher.

What started as a favor for a close Wingman has now evolved into a calling. At the request of her friend, Rothwell recited a poem entitled "Old Glory" during her retirement ceremony in 2002. Although skeptical of the unfamiliar task, and with only a few days to practice, she took on the job.

To date, she has given her soulful rendition of the poem more than 300 times. As a tradition she began while on active-duty, Rothwell has continued to honor friends, Wingmen, and service members with her powerful voice, even now, as a veteran.

"That day, I got up, I was a little nervous, but I said, 'I can do this,'" she said. "So I started off, 'I am the flag of the United States of America... My name ... is Old Glory,' and that started everything from then on."

After that first rendition, she says people would request for her to perform the poem for prominent occasions and ceremonies. It's at that moment that she realized the significance of what she was doing.

"When people started calling and asking me if I would do it, I started looking at things that were happening in the world," said Rothwell. "I wanted to make this really special for everybody so I started adding little things in that would really touch Americans, whether veteran or not."

No matter if performing the poem for a retirement or promotion ceremony, Rothwell said she feels great dignity sharing her talent.

"When I hear the applause or look on the family's faces I feel proud," said Rothwell. "Air Force, Navy or Marines, I do it for everybody. I just enjoy making the families and veterans feel good about their service to the United States."

Since that first rendition 14 years ago, Rothwell said her most memorable experience reciting "Old Glory" was during her husband's  funeral. She said honoring her husband with her recital was a way to pay tribute not only to his service as a veteran, but also to their 35 year marriage as well.

"My sister-in-law called me and she said to me, 'Who's going to do 'Old Glory' for Leon?'" said Rothwell.

Although hesitant of her ability to deliver the poem during the difficult time, she said she knew that if she could do it for others, she could surely honor her husband as well.

"I got up and did it and I felt like he was so proud of me," she said. "I was overwhelmed by the response from the folks at the memorial; they gave me a standing ovation that I got through it."

Whenever she delivers the lyrics it's as if she is transformed into another person; like a trance, she is captivated by the delivery of every word of the poem she so eloquently conveys.

"They're expecting something out of me, so I say I'm going to give it to them, and I give them Old Glory," Said Rothwell.  "I can see the effect it has on people when I [read the poem]. I guess it's the power behind the voice."