(Editor’s Note: This article is the first in an on-going series.)
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – When he takes off in a KC-10 Extender, Master Sgt. Joey Myers brings plenty with him.
He brings all kinds of documentation that helps him circumnavigate the globe — driver’s license, passports, a concealed carry permit, his orders, the documents he needs to carry, both physical and digital, in order to perform his job as a flight engineer aboard KC-10s for the 6th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California.
But there are other items he carries with him, as well; tokens of his time in the service that he has toted with him around the globe. Among these special trinkets are a 5-inch by 7-inch flag that he keeps on his clipboard, a star cut from a tattered flag that once flew over a Florida home and a Bible verse from his grandmother with a handwritten note that says “read every day.”
The flag in particular is special to Myers. It’s followed him on more than 260 combat sorties during the past 16 years, totaling more than 5,800 flying hours. He plans to make it the centerpiece of his shadowbox when his service ends.
“At the time patriotism was running high,” he said. “There was a lot going on in the world and as a 20-something-year-old kid, I felt proud to have the opportunity to serve my country during a time of conflict. Watching ‘shock and awe’ in March 2003 occur on CNN from a deployed location after flying missions directly in support of it was pretty inspiring.”
The flag has gone with him around the world — on those “shock and awe” missions at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the mission when he earned an air medal. It was on his clipboard when he had to reroute across the Atlantic Ocean on a 17-hour flight from South Africa to England. It was with him on a trip from Rota, Spain, to Iraq and back, all in one day.
It was with him when he was part of the Travis crew to deliver the 10,000th Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle into the Middle Eastern theater in 2008. The vehicles were designed to better withstand blasts from improvised explosive devices.
“You could see the happiness in their faces when those would come off the airplane,” he said.
The flag has visited more countries than most people ever see, taken aboard the three jets Myers has flown on during his career: the KC-10 Extender, C-5 Galaxy and KC-135 Stratotanker. He’s been away from home for more than 1,400 days since he joined the service in 1998, meaning the flag has logged thousands of miles at his side.
It’s a globe-spanning journey for a flag and a man who started small. Myers grew up in tiny Pierce, Idaho, which has a population hovering near 500. He was one of 26 kids in his high school graduating class.
“We were 80 miles from the closest Wal-Mart, McDonald’s or stop light,” said Myers. “I was just home a couple weeks ago. It’s like going back in time. There’s no cellphone service there.”
His love of aviation came from his father, who was a civilian aviator, as well as his uncle and his grandfather, both of whom served in the Air Force. Myers’ passion led him to the Air Force, where got to be a KC-135 boom operator right out of basic training.
Myers remembers getting the flag at Royal Air Force Akrotiri in Cyprus, just before Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off. He said they showed up in a box. He stuck it on his clipboard and thought it would be cool to say it had flown in a combat area.
Myers’ passion is aviation. He has his own plane which he built that he uses to meet friends and go “airplane camping,” flying to remote airstrips, pitching a tent under his wing and enjoying outdoor hobbies such as camping, hunting and fishing. The group has met in places dotting the western United States.
He said the flag was “a neat thing” to have; a flag that from a combat zone during a time of war.
“It became neat like that, cool to have some day when I’m old and gray and I can tell my grandkids, ‘This flag’s flown on 250 combat missions,’” he said, changing the tone of his voice to sound older as if he was speaking to his grandchildren.
“Aviation is my passion,” he said. “I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe aviation.”