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Wisconsin students make flag cases for veterans

by PHILLIP BOCK HTR Media on March 18, 2014 11:00 AM

MANITOWOC, Wis. — The sound of band saws echoed through the hall of Lincoln High School as wood shop students worked diligently to craft memorial flag cases for local veterans.

Once complete, approximately 24 flag cases, which can cost upward of $50 each online, will be donated to the Manitowoc County Veterans Service Office.

“I think it’s great,” Veterans Service Officer Jane Babcock said. “We’ll offer them to families that maybe can’t afford to buy one.”

Students have been building flag cases at Lincoln for several years, but this year instructor Richard Kangas tweaked requirements to focus on quality.

The goal, Kangas said, was to give students a better feel for what it would be like to work in a production facility, so “jigs,” a type of mold that helps students set machines correctly, were developed to assist students in maintaining adequate measurements.

[PHOTO: In this March 5, 2014 photo, Lincoln High School students Trey Peitersen, left, and Ricky Morado work together to build an American flag case during woodworking class at the school in Manitowoc, Wis. The finished flag case will be donated to area veterans. (AP Photo/Herald-Times Reporter, Sue Pischke)]

“Now it is more like a manufacturing job,” Kangas said earlier this month. “You can use the jig to set up the machine and check that your setup is right.”

The measurements and angles of the cuts have to be perfect for the corners to match and the box to take the right shape.

“You have to make sure you get the measurements right, otherwise the flag won’t fit in there,” Kangas noted.

Students in the class said getting the measurements just right is one of the most challenging aspects of the project. Even students such as junior Olivia Kakuk, who had built a flag case for a previous class, said getting everything perfect is tough.

“There are a lot of angles to cut, and they have to be spot on or it won’t turn out,” she said. “It will look like a weird triangle. I had to do it like four times last year.”

Kakuk, an advance wood class student, assisted students in the general woods class in creating the flag cases. She worked with a group of students attempting to create a flag case from start to finish in just five days.

“I think we’re doing pretty well,” she said of her group. “I think (we can get it done) if we don’t procrastinate a lot.”

With plenty of work to do, there was little time for procrastination. Creating the flag cases requires the use of every machine in the shop — so students in the group played to their strengths and each took on the part of the project they felt most comfortable with.

“I feel like I’m learning a lot of skills with the machines,” student Mike Heck said. “If I wouldn’t have taken this class, I wouldn’t have known the first thing about running a disc sander or a band saw. I think those will be useful skills to have in the future.”

According to Kangas, the class not only teaches students hard skills such as working with the saws, but also teaches them soft skills such as patience and teamwork.

“When kids come in, sometimes they don’t have soft skills like how to work together,” he said. “You have to teach (both hard and soft skills).”

Kangas also forced students to operate under tight deadlines. The flag case unit started Feb. 1, and Kangas told students they had until Feb. 28 to complete their initial flag case.

“Not every kid made the deadline,” Kangas said. “I’d say about one-third of the kids met the deadline, but the rest are really close.”

With the first set of flag cases done, Kangas offered a new challenge to students. Rather than give the students a month to create a project, he gave them a week.

“That’s what it’s all about: Can you, as a team, crank this thing out and have 100 percent quality,” Kangas said.

At the end of the unit, each flag case will be reviewed by peers and, if the quality is sufficient, the case will be donated to the Veterans Service Office.

By focusing on quality this year, Kangas said students are putting together projects worthy of donation.

“When you raise expectations, they will surprise you and meet the expectations,” Kangas said.

While the majority of students are donating their flag cases, some students, such as Tanner Nate, are choosing to keep them.

Nate, whose father and grandfather both served in the military, plans to gift it to one of them.

“I wanted to keep it because my stepdad, who I consider my dad, was in the Coast Guard,” he said. “I’d like to make it a family thing.”

Students with their eye on completing the project worked right up to the bell signifying the end of class.

“You don’t see them cleaning up early or sitting at the door waiting for class to end,” Kangas said.

“That shows they really have a passion for what they are doing.”

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