By Staff Sgt. Bryan LewisSeptember 10, 2014
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - If one was to walk into the house of a veteran or their family, they would most certain see symbols of patriotism and military service.
For U.S. service members, the biggest symbol of their time spent in a uniform is the American flag. To own one that was flown overseas represents a moment in history where a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine made a difference for their country.
Aviators of Task Force Raptor carried on the tradition and took it to new heights by carrying American flags over southern Afghanistan over the course of their deployment.
The tradition of carrying flags during aerial missions has continued Aviation's history, but the purpose and motivation for taking them up has modified over the years.
"We (aviators) started early after 9/11 with flying the American flag for others," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rex A. Finley, Task Force Raptor chief warrant officer of the brigade and UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter pilot. "Prior to that, I know aviators carried flags with them, not so much to present them, but to just have them."
During Finley's first tour in Iraq, his unit had flags shipped over from the U.S. to fly them and present them to Family members.
Pilots and crews throughout the brigade have flown hundreds of flags on AH-64E Apache helicopters, UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters and CH-47F Chinook helicopters since April 2014.
"I think a lot of it is sentimental. I think it's more of the patriotic idea of having the national colors fly in a combat aircraft in Afghanistan to say we're still serving here," said 1st Lt. Philip J. Webster, a Kiowa pilot.
The aviation crews of the Raptor Brigade have elevated the prestige of their volunteer duty by adding an additional token from the flight.
"We take the flags out and fly them on a mission," Webster added. "Then we come back after the mission and we'll print off the certificate saying we flew the flag in a combat zone with both pilots' signatures."
As units begin to retrograde and shrink in Afghanistan, fewer service members will have the opportunity to deploy and be a part of history. For many, having a flag that was overseas is a reminder of their commitment.
"I reenlisted in Afghanistan and the one I had flown was my reenlistment flag," said Spc. Haley Brown, Task Force Bellator medic from Winder, Georgia. "Being able to fly with my flag was very cool because I like to fly. Also, having it fly over Afghanistan was very significant."
Just as senior pilots pass on the patriotic task to their juniors, those who possess a flown flag can pass on the memories of their time deployed.
"The less-than-one-percent of the American people that do choose to raise their hand and serve in the military carry on a great tradition," Finley said. "To see the young warrant officers and young officers choose to fly these flags is representative of tradition across the years."
Whether the flag is displayed in a service member's home or given as a gift to someone else, anyone who sees it will be reminded of America's past and current operations.
"When you send a flag home that has a cool picture with a helicopter, signatures of the people who actually flew in the aircraft and was flown in a war zone ... it's a reminder that we are still here and it's not over yet," Webster concluded.