Five Gulf Power employees at the Destin office have children in the military. From left, Craig Irlbeck, Vince Brown, Leo King and Kent Longo. Not pictured is James Karzcewski. Photos of the employees children are part of the Blue Star banner that Longo’s other son built so it could be displayed in the Destin office.

As Americans across the country are preparing to celebrate more than 200 years of liberty and freedom, many families are honoring their loved ones serving in the armed forces both home and abroad.

Such is the case for Kent Longo, a lineman with Gulf Power, who has a wooden replica of the Blue Star banner hanging in the company’s Destin, Florida, office and proudly displays photos of five employee’s children who are serving in different branches of the U.S. military

Brett Longo, the son of Kent, built the banner in honor of his brother, Jason, who recently finished a tour of duty in the Middle East for the U.S. Marines.

“We have so many of the guys here who have kids in the military that we wanted to honor our sons and daughters,” Kent Longo said. “When they are over there, a part of your heart is over there. We are just so proud of them.”

The Blue Star Service banner was designed and patented in 1917 by World War I Army Capt. Robert L. Queissner of the 5th Ohio Infantry who had two sons serving on the front line. It quickly became the unofficial symbol of a child in the service.

Its use became widespread during World War II, then faded away and regained popularity in the wake of 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Military children of the other Destin employees include:

Kody Brown, Air Force, son of Vince Brown, Lineman;
Brian Irlbeck, Air Force, son of Craig Irlbeck, Service Technician;
Stacey Karzcewski, Army, daughter of James Karzcewski, Service Technician;
Bryan King, Army, son of Leo King, Planning & Construction Team Leader.

The banner was installed in the Destin office a couple of weeks ago.

“It was such a good idea,” King said. “Brett did a fantastic job.”

Bryan King is in the U.S. Army 101st Airborne division in Afghanistan and scheduled to return home.

“They step up to the call,” King said. “It’s a sacrifice for them to go overseas and it’s a sacrifice for the families. You don’t sleep well at night.”

Longo agreed with King. Waiting for your child to return home, he said, can be nerve-wracking.

“You start wishing away time,” he said. “When Jason was overseas, we were counting months, then weeks, then days.”

King said U.S. soldiers have been protecting our freedoms since 1776.

“We’re so proud of all the things they do,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we celebrate the Fourth of July.”