High-tech laser-guided weapons are standard equipment on the F-16’s flown by Iowa Air National Guard soldiers on active duty in Afghanistan, but their flights also include some special cargo.
Staff Sergeant Andrea Jones says the U.S.A. flag flying program allows soldiers to request a ride along for Old Glory in the military aircraft on patrols.
“What happens is they submit those flags to the base flag program, from there, they can have their flag either flown in an F-16, a C-130, they can even do it in the unmanned aircraft and even the helicopters. It depends on the flight that the person submitting the flag would like to have their flag flown in,” Jones says.
Jones oversees the flag program for the 124th Fighter Squadron pilots who are part of the 132nd Air Wing based in Des Moines. She prepares the flags that ride along when the Iowa pilots kick in the afterburners and head for the sky.
“We send them up with the pilots in a bag and they go ahead and put those in the cockpit with them and fly those over the course of their mission. And when they bring them back, I process those flags, create flag certificates, and then return them to the base flag program where the submitter is able to pick them back up,” Jones explains.
Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Travis Acheson of West Des Moines, says they are proud to carry along the Stars Stripes. “The pilots love doing that, we stack the cockpit full of American flags and we take ’em up with us when we rage around the skies of Afghanistan. And then when we come back, we turn the flags in,” Atcheson says.
Atcheson says the soldiers are pleased to be able to give the flags to those on the ground who support them while they are in harm’s way.
Atcheson says,” They can have that as a memento of what we’re doing over here and the position of freedom that we’re here to enforce.”
Jones says the Iowa pilots take up an average of 50 to 75 flags on each mission, and near the end of March had already flown over 300 flags high above Afghanistan. Jones and Acheson spoke with reporters recently from their base in Kanduhar.
The 300 some Iowa Air Guard soldiers will wrap up their mission and come home later this spring.
Photos courtesy of the Iowa National Guard