Air Force Association

Air Force Association
National Website

Arkansas State Association

David D. Terry Chapter # 253
Jacksonville, AR

Lewis E. Lyle Chapter # 270
Hot Springs, AR

Arkansas State | David D. Terry Chapter | Lewis E. Lyle Chapter  | Home

Air Force Association



(As published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on September 22, 2014)

Col Jim Elmer, a former base commander of Little Rock Air Force Base, top left, helps guide a group of Boone Park Elementary School fifth graders as he teaches them how to march in an honor guard formation during his presentation on flag etiquette Wednesday in North Little Rock. Students from left are, Jaylin Drone, Daqurion Barrow, Kelis Davis, and De'Shanti Lewis.

Col Jim Elmer* has worked for 26 years to educate area fifth-graders about the American flag. When the state Legislature passed a bill in 1987 requiring Arkansas schools to teach students flag etiquette, Elmer was one of the first to volunteer as an instructor. The 80-year-old North Little Rock resident said his 30 years of military service, combined with his lifelong love of his country, willed him to do it.

"It's so important because most people don't know basic rules about how to respect the flag," Elmer said. "Kids need to be educated about what the flag means, why we have it and what it represents." The bill's specific objective -- to teach flag etiquette and history to fifth-graders statewide -- was delegated to the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, and a veterans service officer stationed in each county was given the task of arranging for volunteers to give presentations. However, even at its beginning, the project never materialized as intended, Elmer said, noting that a call for volunteer presenters in 1988 solicited "absolutely zero response." Twenty-six years later, Elmer has built momentum with the program in central Arkansas and, along with the state VA, is trying again to push it out into other areas of the state.

That push is occurring despite a cut to the program's budget. In a decision last fall, the state agency permanently took away $5,000 to $8,000 allotted to the program each year for printing handouts. The agency cited lack of funds and unnecessary spending. "We just can't afford it," said Kelly Ferguson, spokesman for the state VA. "It's not something that would be feasible or even make sense. It's coming out of our annual budget, and we really needed to utilize those funds in other ways Dressed in his Air Force uniform, including insignia, high-gloss shoes and garrison cap, Elmer strode up and down rows of seated fifth-graders Wednesday afternoon, quizzing them about the origins of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance. Most of the approximately 50 students in the small auditorium at Boone Park Elementary School in North Little Rock raised their hands or shouted guesses.

"When you say, 'I pledge allegiance,' you are saying, 'I will promise to honor and respect my flag,'" Elmer told the class. "The flag belongs to the people, to you." Elmer has spoken about the flag to classes at Boone Park since at least 1999, Principal Abigail Stone said. Now that the fifth-graders have completed the program, they will be responsible for raising and lowering the flag in front of the school each day.

"We appreciate it," Stone said, greeting Elmer in the school's office Wednesday. "Hearing the flag's background from someone who has contributed to our freedom, that brings it all home." For the past month, Elmer has spent hours in schools such as this one, going through the repertoire at least a few times each week. Each school year, mostly during the fall, he gives anywhere from 30 to 50 presentations, about 10 times the amount he did in 1989.

When he first joined the flag education program, Elmer gave five presentations, starting with Arnold Drive Elementary School at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville. "I said, 'Wait a minute here, we got this fantastic program, and nobody's doing it,'" he said. "There was an elementary school on base, and I thought that was a good place to start. So I did Arnold. Then I did some more." Elmer reached out to more schools and started receiving unsolicited calls from teachers requesting his presentation. As the years passed, the schools added up, and Elmer assembled volunteers when he could no longer meet the demand. The presenters moved south from Jacksonville, tacking on schools in Sherwood, North Little Rock and Little Rock. This year for the first time he and the 15 volunteers he manages are to take the flag education program to every public elementary school in Pulaski County. With this milestone achieved, Elmer wants to see the program go statewide, as it was intended. While he's already made efforts to spread it into some communities in Lonoke and White counties, he can't do it alone or forever.

"I'm getting older, and the last two or three years have been more of a problem," Elmer said. "I found myself at the end of last year starting to get burnt out. When you start to burn out, the kids suffer." Before he steps away, Elmer wants to ensure that the Pulaski County program is self-sustaining. And, he said, he wants to do all he can to encourage individuals or veterans organizations in other counties to take it up.

"It just takes someone who is patriotic, someone who cares," Elmer said. "For me, it's about the kids. I love kids." While Elmer uses his connections to find volunteers in other counties, new leadership at the state VA is attempting to connect   volunteers with schools or other groups that request them. Officials at the state department said that growth could occur in spite of and because of a cut to the program's budget When Cissy Rucker was named director of the state department in 2012, organizing the agency's budget was a priority priority, Ferguson said. Of the items cut from its annual budget were booklets about flag etiquette and cards signed by the governor stating that the student had completed the flag education program. Instead, the booklets and other resources went online. Because materials have gone online, they will reach more
groups and individuals interested in learning about the flag, Ferguson said.

"We didn't need to be printing that many when we can provide it online," she said. "The other thing is, we also want to expand the program,
and this is the way to do that. Anyone can get online and get a curriculum." .However, Ferguson said, the lack of handouts has been a
"source of contention" with volunteers.
* a member of Air Force Association

UPDATE: Colonel Elmer passed away in 2021