An Alabama soldier will get a state flag to display while he's serving in Afghanistan after the governor's office reversed itself Wednesday after initially refusing because of the cost.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Howard J. Blake Jr. said he high-fived a fellow "Bama boy" in celebration after learning of the change.
"As I just told my wife, `Sometimes you have to yell to be heard,'" Blake said in an email exchange with The Associated Press. "With all the comforts that we are denied over here, a simple state flag can be enough to remind the soldier of happier times and of family and friends back home."
The Birmingham News first reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/nCcFA6) that the office of Gov. Robert Bentley told Blake it couldn't afford to give away flags. The flags can cost as little as $11 on websites.
"The demand for flags is so great that the budget for the governor's office can only provide flags to the survivors of an Alabama soldier who has been killed defending this state and nation," Bentley aide Denise Randall wrote Blake in an email exchange released to The Associated Press under Alabama's open records law.
Bentley said he had inherited a "stupid" policy against sending flags to troops and was changing it. From now on, service members can receive free state flags if they are located in combat zones, he said.
"This is another example of a long-standing state policy that just makes no common sense," Bentley, himself a veteran, said in a statement.
Bentley said at the news conference that he would include a personal note to Blake with the flag.
Republican Bob Riley was governor for eight years before Bentley took office in January, but Bentley didn't mention Riley during a news conference. Bentley press secretary Jennifer Ardis said the governor's office didn't know which of Bentley's predecessors put the policy in place or how long it had been in effect.
More than 16,000 Alabama National Guard troops have been called to active duty since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Blake disputed the idea that the state couldn't afford to send flags to troops.
"My taxes alone could pay for thousands of flags to be sent to our boys overseas," he wrote.