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Old Glory travels from sea to shining sea

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Denise M. Jenson
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

The young boy stared in awe as military aircraft powered through the skies.

“Which jet is that?” asked his father, pointing to the sky.

“That’s an F-14! And that one over there is an F-16!” the boy answered proudly.

From a young age, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Balko, an electrical and environmental craftsman assigned to the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, knew he wanted to have a career related to military aviation.

“Quite a few members of my family were military, every branch from Army to Coast Guard,” Balko said. “My father was in the Navy, and I knew I wanted a career in the military -- I just didn’t want to follow too closely in his footsteps. After graduating high school, I took my Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), and got a career choice I was very satisfied with, which allowed me to work closely with aircraft.”

From stepping off the bus into basic training in 2011, to his first deployment in 2012, time flew by.

“When I was a young Airman on my first deployment in Qatar [Al Udeid Air Base], I noticed a senior noncommissioned officer had something he carried with him: an American flag,” Balko noted. “Seeing that kind of thing was inspiring, so I ordered my own flag from an American company back home and had it shipped to my deployed location.”

After Qatar, Balko continued to travel the world performing his duties as an Airman, taking his flag with him everywhere he went. For each place the flag has been, Balko tracks the location and places a tally mark to indicate the number of times it has been to that place.

“This flag has been everywhere with me ever since the first deployment,” Balko noted. “Every duty station, every temporary duty location, every deployment. I also take it with me on personal trips.”

From the deserts of Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom to the skies over Nevada during a Red Flag training exercise, Old Glory has flown proud in memorable locations. In total, Balko’s flag has flown over 20 locations.

“One of my favorite places my flag has been has to be Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland,” Balko recalled. “I was there on a trip with my family, and I had asked one of the guys who worked there about getting a picture with my flag, and the man turned around and said to a coworker, ‘Hey Jim, these guys want to fly their flag!’ So I actually got to fly my flag on the same location where our National Anthem was written; it was such a humbling moment.”

Balko said he hopes to continue his adventures with the flag after he retires from the Air Force because there are still plenty of places he has yet to display his flag proudly.

“At the end of your service, retirees are given a folded flag,” he said. “But there isn’t a real story behind it. To me, my flag has character. It’s not just a flag, it’s a symbol of our nation. I want to be able to have something, a legacy of sorts, to pass down to my future children so they can take it on their own adventures someday.”