TALLAHASSEE — Last week the Florida State Seminoles honored the U.S. military in a commendation of service. During the game on Saturday, they had American flags sprinted out onto the field, members from every branch in uniform celebrating the unique services of the armed forces, a blazing national anthem, and many other tributes to our men and women in uniform.
There was also something else though—something unique going on behind the scenes. This unique addition came in the form of a Seminole flag.
This was a flag flown over Camp Dwyer in Afghanistan that gave Sergeant First Class Kyle Yarbrough some sense of being home while in such a bleak and desolate environment. It brought together fans and alumni, even people who just enjoyed his love for FSU, not only at Camp Dwyer but from all over the world when the photograph made its rounds on FSU Reddit.
So Yarbrough had an idea. What if this flag that had been flown over one of the worst places you could imagine and carried with him by hand into Kuwait could somehow make its way into the hands of head coach Mike Norvell and be shown to the team along with a lesson of perseverance and determination?
That seemed to be the ultimate destination for a flag his mother sent to him in a care package out of love. Yarbrough got his wish and much more than he asked for when FSU alumni Jennifer Janasiewicz got involved to get him connected with the right people. The flag is now planned to be displayed at the stadium along with other flags and items of significant meaning to the university and he got a personal tour from the staff behind the scenes.
I got a chance to chat with Yarbrough and Janasiewicz about his experiences with the team at FSU and how she managed to coordinate with the university to make it all happen:
Ok so, tell us a little about yourself. What do you do in the Army and how long have you been a Florida State fan?
KY: I’ll flip these around for you. I’ve been an FSU fan for as long as I can recall. I grew up in Tallahassee and spent the first 19 years of my life there. FSU, and particularly football, is just woven into the fabric of the city. My family is no exception. My grandpa had season tickets, I was a scout usher for a spell, and my sister and other relatives are all alumni. I’ve been in the army since 2004. In 2009 I graduated from EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) school. We do everything from rendering safe IEDs to disposal of bulk munitions and such.
Was there a particular moment that sparked your fandom and love for FSU?
KY: I’m not sure there’s a singular event, but FSU’s success on the field in the late ’80s and ‘90s cemented my passion for the Noles and the sport overall. I distinctly remember sitting in my living room and watching the end of the 1994 Orange Bowl that secured a title.
How did this whole situation come about? I know it started out from a picture you took and posted on Reddit of a Seminole flag, where in the world were you when you took that picture?
KY: I asked my mom to send me some FSU stuff in hopes of adding some familiarity to the place. I was at CL Dwyer which is a dreary, desolate place. I owned the only flag pole so I hoisted the flag. Turns out a lot of people liked it and I met a lot of Noles and folks who just wanted to chat about Florida or sports. It ended up being in my bag for some monumental stuff: like the withdrawal and final hours of Afghanistan. I reached out to some fellow fans to see what they thought about it and who’d want it. It kind of, for lack of a better term, snowballed from there.
I know when I was overseas watching FSU play became sort of my taste of home and I’m sure it had been similar to you. What was it like seeing the Seminole flag every morning? Were you able to watch any games?
KY: Seeing it every day was awesome. I even made my team member listen to an entire chiefs album one morning. We made it home before football season, but we managed to watch lots of basketball, baseball, and the spring game.
So you got to meet the team, you got to check out the facilities and really it sounded like FSU rolled out the red carpet for you. Can you walk us through what you did on your tour?
KY: As a guy from Tallahassee and a lifelong fan, I can say the entire experience was amazing and one I never imagined possible for myself. Seeing the inner workings of practice, the world-class facilities, and the underbelly of the stadium that most fans don’t see was my favorite part. I also had the opportunity to meet the people who run FSU’s Veteran’s Program (and the Vet Center.) As someone who at times has struggled with juggling military and college life, I appreciate what they’ve done for veterans and service members. They deserve a huge applause in their own right. Lastly, Being able to share my own experiences with the players and coaches is something I’ll never forget. We go our whole lives doing what we see as normal or mundane and tend to forget that it can have a motivating or lasting impact on others. It’s something they probably do for hundreds of people, but it’s truly something I’ll hang on to and cherish forever. GO NOLES!
Janasiewicz is the Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions and Graduation at FSU and the idea was presented to her from a place none other than the internet. After seeing the incredible journey that both Yarbrough and the flag had taken she got to work on making it a reality.
“I coordinated everything. I contacted Billy Francis first—I’m not sure if you know who these people are so stop me if you do. Billy runs the student Veteran’s Center. He connected me with Chuck Morris. Chuck was the key player in getting everything regarding the flag set up with Norvell’s office. I went to FSU and I was in Chiefs with the AD (Stuart Pearce) that went with me to facetime Kyle in with Norvell. I asked Chad McClellan in SAAS if he wanted to be involved and he offered to take them on a tour of things—took them to practice Friday and to see all the trophies and rings and meet Norvell. Bruce Warwick, Norvell’s Chief of Staff reached back out and asked if Kyle would be available to speak to the team Friday.”
Yarbrough did and his message was simple but meaningful:
“I talked to them about the flag mostly and about how I see them playing a sport as a selfless act. Their own sacrifices make other people happy. I thanked them for what they do just as they had thanked me for what I do”