451st AEW members give flags wings to fly

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Emily F. Alley
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Whether as a unique thank you, a patriotic souvenir or a solemn reminder, more than 3,000 flags have been flown over the skies of Afghanistan by the combined aircraft of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing over the past six months.

Wing aircrew carry flags on routine missions over Afghanistan. It's an additional duty that aircrew have willingly accepted and anyone can submit any flag to be flown.

"We've had Boy Scout flags flown along with team flags," said Airman 1st Class Joshua Williams, a 451st Operations Support Squadron knowledge operator and the flag flying program manager.

Lt. Col. Joel Hampton, the 451st AEW Operational Support Flight commander, acknowledged that part the popularity of the 451st AEW program is that it's free, but members supply their own flags.

"We feel it does a lot for morale, relatives, friends back home, kids and grandparents," Colonel Hampton said.

Senior Airman Dominico Jones, who coordinated the flag flying program for the past six months prior to Airman Williams' arrival, has also heard requests from schools, firefighters, Marines and Canadians. Occasionally, he'll get special requests, such as providing a flown flag to a World War II veteran who's been given a month to live.

"Those, I'll take and fly myself," said Colonel Hampton, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, wanting to ensure the special requests are handled with a personal touch.

For routine requests, flags will wait to fly in the order they were received, which takes about three weeks before being returned, he said. If the flag is requested to fly on multiple aircraft in the 451st AEW catalogue, it may take up to three months.

A large number of flags are requested by Soldiers, many on a second or third deployment, the colonel said. Many, he described, credit the A-10, or one of the other 451st AEW aircraft, with having saved their lives. When the soldiers drop off their flags and paperwork, they'll sit down and tell their story.

"They'll say, 'I want it flown on the A-10; that was the plane that saved me last time,'" he said.

Airman Jones was struck by the story of a group of Soldiers from a mounted division, who had fallen under attack while on a patrol. The group was almost out of ammunition and being fired on from several sides when an Airman in their group called in an air strike. Within 10 minutes, an A-10 screamed overhead and destroyed the insurgents. Airman Jones claimed each of the Soldiers requested flags from the A-10s.

"At times, it can be demanding," Airman Jones said of the program. "But the look of appreciation you get, why these flags are important, the stories you hear, make it worth it."

Airman Williams, who recently filled the position as Flag Flying Manager, plans to take advantage of it while he's deployed here.

"I'm getting a flag flown for my uncle," he said.

Airman Williams also doesn't mind the responsibility, or the boxes of flags -- which are stuffed into every inch of shelf space in his office -- any one of which might be for someone who was saved by one of his aircraft.