Capt. Jordan D. Henrickson, a Wisconsin native and the commander of Cerberus Battery, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, received an American flag as a commissioning gift. Years later, he saw a Facebook post from the Wisconsin American Legion advertising an opportunity to send an American flag to a deployed Marine who would fly the flag in Afghanistan.
Capt. Henrickson sent his flag to Herat, Afghanistan, in August 2014 where it flew on a medical evacuation helicopter for multiple missions. From there, Capt. Henrickson reached out to a high school friend who had become an Apache pilot. His friend agreed to fly it with him while he was in Iraq. The flag's journey took off and he documented its travels on an Instagram page he created called American Flag Journey.
It has since traveled to all continents, including the South Pole in Antarctica with an Air Force colonel. It waved over the Pentagon, the United States Capitol, and Arlington National Cemetery. It has been on ships including the USS Wisconsin and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. The flag's been to embassies, Camp David, and even the summit of Mount Everest.
In 2017, as AFJ's popularity on social media grew, Capt. Henrickson decided to use the popularity for a worthwhile cause by turning AFJ into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to help service members transitioning out of the military.
Years before beginning the nonprofit organization, Capt. Henrickson noticed soldiers were leaving the military often without a plan. Some had a plan but were settling for an unsustainable job that was not in line with their interests, skills, or location preference. He wanted to help them and realized AFJ was the tool he needed.
To get the nonprofit started, Capt. Henrickson recruited one of his ROTC instructors and asked if he would be willing to join AFJ as a caseworker. He agreed and more joined the team.
The caseworkers offer assistance to active duty service members from all five branches, to include job searching and placement, marketability, interview preparation, resume creation, and a follow-up with the service member a year after transitioning. If the service member is not thriving in his/her job, an AFJ caseworker begins the process again and helps the service member find the right fit.
AFJ also offers an annual $5000 scholarship to any veteran who served honorably for at least three years to be used for any college degree, certification, or trade school.
Moving forward, Cpt. Henrickson is working to broaden AFJ's reach by helping Gold Star Families. He spoke with a Gold Star Spouse for three hours on the phone and with her perspective in mind, he aims to make AFJ a centralized information center. Additionally, he hopes AFJ can provide the families with a plane ticket to see their loved one's graves if they are geographically separated or to help them travel to a memorial.
Capt. Henrickson feels humbled that his flag's journey to Afghanistan in 2014 has led to a nonprofit organization that has helped so many.
"One small idea can turn into something bigger and better," he said.