DUKE FIELD, Fla. --
Citizen Air Commandos from the 919th Special Operations Wing appreciate the significance of flags flown on combat missions in Afghanistan.When a member of the unit read a local article on July 4, 2018 about a resident from Crestview, Florida, who lost her American flag flown in Afghanistan during a boating excursion near Crab Island, an astounding chain of events began to unfold.
“I saw the story on this young lady losing her flag and wanted to help,” said Maj. Terrell Eikner, 919th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. “It was the right thing to do.”
Eikner, a combat veteran who deployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2008, had officials from the 919th SOW reach out to KaSandra Gray to determine if she was successful in locating the missing flag. The search did not prove fruitful.
“I made the decision right then that I wanted to give her a replacement flag,” he said.
Gray, who has served in the Air Force for 14 years and is a veteran of multiple deployments, is now assigned as an Arabic Linguist at Hurlburt Field, Florida. She bought the flag before her first deployment overseas and had kept it for years before getting separated from it June 24 after spending the day on Crab Island with her family.
This became a personal mission for Eikner who knew he had a small number of flags in his attic in boxes still adorned with shipping labels from Afghanistan. There were roughly 50 boxes in storage. Undeterred, he was prepared to go through all of them to find the commemorative flag for Gray.
“The first box I pulled out had one of the flags from my  deployment in it,” said Eikner.
With the flag in hand and accompanying certificate detailing the specific mission it was flown, aircraft tail number and call sign of the pilot, Eikner was ready to invite Gray to Duke Field as a guest of the aircraft maintenance squadron.
Gray was speechless when first contacted and invited to Duke Field to receive the flag from Eikner and 75 Citizen Air Commandos from the aircraft maintenance squadron. She made the trip to the base August 5, 2018, during their Reserve drill weekend and received the flag in front of several family members, including her parents who have a combined 34 years of service.
Just before presenting the flag to Gray, Eikner said, “I’m telling you ma’am, this whole thing … it was meant to be.”
The gesture had an obvious impact on her.
“This is a huge honor for me to receive something that you’ve kept for so long,” she said to the aircraft maintainers at Duke Field. “I’m so grateful that you magically found this flag and decided to pass it along to me. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.”
The magic Gray was referring to was the connection Duke Field enjoys with the pilot who flew that flag. It was flown on June 17, 2008 by then Maj. Les Bradfield, an A-10 pilot with the 442nd Fighter Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. That A-10 pilot is now Col. Les Bradfield, commander of the 919 SOW. He and Eikner served together in Afghanistan in that same A-10 and both coordinated to fly several American flags for deserving recipients once they returned home.
Gray and her family had an opportunity to meet Bradfield after receiving the new flag from the men and women under his command.
“It’s amazing how things happen for the right reasons,” said Bradfield. “I know that flag meant a lot to you. I am very sorry it was lost but glad we were able to give you this (new one).”
He added the culture of taking care of Airmen is engrained in Citizen Air Commandos at all ranks throughout the unit.
“There’s a lot of great Citizen Air Commandos [in this wing] who see things like that and reach out,” added Bradfield. “When we’re out there in Afghanistan, pilots fly a lot of flags for a lot of reasons and sometimes you don’t know where the flags go. For one to actually come back and resurface for a great purpose, I’m very proud of that.”