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updated: 6/16/2014 5:00 PM

Air Force major from Schaumburg decries Bergdahl exchange

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  • Air Force Major Gina Stramaglio of Schaumburg, right, speaks with Joan Creevy of Schaumburg at Schaumburg's Flag Day ceremony and senior picnic Friday.

       Air Force Major Gina Stramaglio of Schaumburg, right, speaks with Joan Creevy of Schaumburg at Schaumburg's Flag Day ceremony and senior picnic Friday.
    Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

 
 

Schaumburg's Flag Day ceremony and senior picnic Friday honored the symbol of the United States and the freedoms and opportunities its people enjoy.

But the event's guest of honor -- Air Force Major Gina Stramaglio, who recently bought a home in the village -- believes the lives of her military colleagues who fight for those freedoms around the world are more at risk due to the recent exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive in Afghanistan for five years, because they could be targeted for kidnapping.

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"They won that one, we didn't," Stramaglio said Friday in an interview at the event.

She said some are incorrectly characterizing Bergdahl as a POW. He was not, she said, because he was being held by terrorists. That makes the exchange that freed him significantly different from the exchanges that freed POWs in World War II and Vietnam, Stramaglio said.

And the five Taliban members who were freed were the last Americans should have wanted to see regain their liberty. No member of the military ever wants to be responsible for that, she said.

"We took an oath -- I'm an American, prepared to give my life in its defense," Stramaglio said. "We mean it."

Stramaglio's mother, Karen, said the recent prisoner exchange evoked an anger in her daughter and her colleagues she's rarely seen in the 13 years since Stramaglio joined the Air Force.

"She said, 'We do not negotiate with terrorists,'" Karen Stramaglio said. "They do not want to be negotiated for. They would rather die. I'm so proud of her for that."

Stramaglio enlisted just before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after studying World War II in college.

Since then, she's been deployed 13 times and flown approximately 300 combat missions.

"I love it," Stramaglio said. "My heart and soul is in the military."

She also spearheaded a project to save and care for stray dogs in a classified area she visited while on a mission involving the African nation of Mali.

With the help of her mother, social media, Schaumburg's Golf Rose Animal Hospital and Daily Herald readers, $15,000 was raised to help the stray dogs in that area. Of this amount, $10,000 has already been spent on spaying, neutering and construction of a care facility.

Stramaglio said that while she's always loved animals, this was a particularly bad situation that cried out for assistance.

Stramaglio was born in Elk Grove Village, graduated from Prospect High School in Mount Prospect and attended Loyola University in Chicago.

She was most recently stationed in Mildenhall, England, and after her current leave will be assigned to a base in North Carolina. Due to her recent home purchase, however, she now considers herself a Schaumburg resident.

She was the guest of state Rep. Michelle Mussman of Schaumburg at Friday's ceremony.

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