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Entering the record books, one flagpole at a time

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Wearing sunglasses and a blue polo shirt, David Chambers climbs out of his monster SUV into the stifling heat of Abu Dhabi. He strides purposefully along a narrow breakwater, then stops at the base of a very tall flagpole. “Looking a little bit dirty,” he mutters, his nose inches from the pole. In the distance, the city’s glass and steel skyline shimmers.

A former engineering contractor from San Diego, chambers has lived in the U.A.E. for 15 years. He built the Abu Dhabi flagpole about a decade ago at the request of a sheikh from the emirate’s ruling family, who was very clear on one point: He wanted it to be the world’s tallest. Chambers, who’d had no experience in the field, said that would be no problem. “It was very risky, very scary,” he says. “I’d never even owned a flagpole.”

Chambers quickly established a flagpole-building company, Trident Support, in Dubai and got to work. In 2002, Abu Dhabi’s brand-new 404-foot flagpole was officially recognized as the tallest in the world. The sheikh was pleased.

A year later, a representative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II called. The king wanted a taller pole than the Abu Dhabi one. Chambers built a 417-foot flagpole in Amman, and then an even taller one in Aqaba. Shortly afterward, he built a 436-foot flagpole in Turkmenistan, followed by a 536-footer in Azerbaijan and, last year, a 541-foot pole in Tajikistan, which is now the world’s tallest.

Chambers will soon start work on a 558-foot flagpole in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a gift to the royal family from a Saudi businessman. Chambers is up to about 50 of these “stately poles” now, including all the record-setters. A flagpole usually costs between $5 million and $10 million, and the orders keep coming in.

“It’s not a big dollar investment for a country, but the patriotic value is very, very high,” Chambers says, the U.A.E. flag fluttering above his head. “There’s a lot of emotion when the flags go up.” —RON CLAIBORNE

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