A Walk Among Heroes
by U.S. Air Force Samuel King Jr., Eglin AFB Public Affairs
March 25, 2019
A breeze occasionally cuts through the late summer humidity and
causes the flags to magically rise, ripple and fall. The sight of
360 American flags standing in rows suddenly coming to life in waves
is both eerie and moving.
September 14, 2018 - American
flags flap in the light breeze on the Field of Valor display
in Niceville, Florida. The display features 13 rows of 27
flags and one extra to create the field. Names of recently
fallen military members, including 10 Airmen, adorn each of
the approximately 352 American flags. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Samuel King Jr.)
The majestic and overwhelming visuals are only the top layer of
experience within the Field of Valor here.
annual Field of Valor event, in its fifth iteration, honors
Floridian military members who died in service in Iraq and
Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. Each flag represents a fallen
service member. On the flag is a tag displaying the member’s name,
age, rank, hometown, a brief description of his or her service and
date of death. There are 15 rows of 24 flags.
As a Florida
resident, Air Force civilian employee and reservist, I seek out the
tags of my fellow Airmen each year. Lists are available to locate
services and specific military members. I choose not to use them. I
take my time to walk among the flags and find those lost names.
There were 14 in September 2018.
The first Air Force name I
find is Staff Sgt. Bryan Berky. He was an explosive ordnance
disposal technician who died in Afghanistan in 2009. As an EOD
member, his name was added to the career field’s Memorial Wall in
2010. The wall is located at the DOD’s main training facility only
five miles from the Field of Valor. Since the school is a tenant
unit on Eglin Air Force Base, where I work, I’ve covered the
name-adding ceremony as a photojournalist every year since Berky’s
name was added.
The next two tags are for Master Sgt. Tara
Brown and Tech. Sgt. John Brown. Both Airmen were 33 years old and
died in 2011 in Afghanistan. John perished in a helicopter crash,
while Tara was killed in a deadly attack at Kabul’s airport. That
incident left eight Airmen dead, including Brown.
Valor fact: The youngest Floridian honored with a flag is Army
Private 1st Class Charles Sims, age 18.
Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, and Jacksonville native, Master Sgt. William
Posch, were unfortunate new editions to this year’s Field. The
pararescue Airmen lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Iraq
March 15. The 308th Rescue Squadron Airmen were just two of the
seven military members who died in the crash.
halfway down row five is the flag honoring Staff Sgt. Lee Griffin
Jr. Griffin, a South Carolina native, was deployed from a local
Eglin AFB unit when he was killed by an accidental explosion during
convoy operations in Iraq in 2003. He was 31 years old.
of Valor fact: the average age of military members represented in
the Field of Valor is 27.5 years old.
Airman 1st Class
Elizabeth Jacobson’s flag is at the end of row six. Jacobson, a
Riviera Beach native, was only 21 and the youngest Airman
represented on the Field of Valor. She was the first female Airman
killed supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first Air Force
security forces member killed in conflict since the Vietnam War.
Jacobson died from injuries sustained from an improvised explosive
device during convoy operations in 2005.
Senior Master Sgt. James Lackey, Lt. Col. Gwendolyn Locht and Lt.
Col. Darin Loftis were all assigned to the local base, Hurlburt
Field. Lackey and Locht passed in 2010. All were deployed to
Afghanistan. Lackey was killed in a CV-22 crash while Locht died
from a non-combat illness. Loftis died in 2012 during an attack at
the interior ministry. Locht had local ties as well. She was born at
the Eglin hospital and called Fort Walton Beach home.
of Valor fact: The oldest person honored with a flag is Army Lt.
Col. Peter Winston, age 56.
Master Sgt. Michael Maltz,
another pararescue Airman, is the last Air Force name on the Field
of Valor’s eighth row. Maltz died in a helicopter crash in
Afghanistan in 2003. He was 42 years old.
On the 12th row is
Senior Airman Nathan Sartain. This local Pensacola native and
security forces Airman died in Afghanistan in a C-130J Hercules
crash in 2015. Last year, Eglin’s 96th Security Forces Squadron
named its newest patrol boat in Sartain’s honor. I was on hand to
document the christening of the boat by Sartain’s mother, Janice.
Field of Valor fact: Floridian Soldiers represent 70 percent of
the total flag representations.
1st Lt. Anais Tobar’s flag is
in the middle of row 14. In 2016, Tobar, 25, died of non-combat
related injuries at a base in Southwest Asia. She was from Miami.
The last lost Airman is Tech. Sgt. Timothy Weiner who died in
Iraq in 2007. Weiner was a 16-year EOD technician. His name is also
a permanent fixture on the Air Force block of the EOD memorial wall
located at Eglin.
I’ve only highlighted four percent of the
heroes represented throughout the Field. I had a stunning and
chilling thought as I crisscrossed those rows and columns of red,
white and blue. Most states may not have a Field of Valor, but every
state has lost servicemembers to the current conflicts. Some of
those numbers of the lost are small, some are great.
macro-level thought about the losses and statistics for each state
was heart-breaking, but as someone who seeks out the individual’s
story, it’s overwhelming.
Each flag represents a person. All
of those people chose to serve their country and had a story. My
words here never touched the 344 other Floridians and their story. I
barely broke the surface on the Airmen’s full story. It is
bittersweet to tell this story. I have the opportunity to share a
little bit about these Floridian Airmen, but there’s guilt of not
being able to highlight and remember them all.
The Field of
Valor is a walk among heroes. It is also a walk through honor,
sadness and gratitude on a personal level and from a state to its
America's Best | America's Greatest
Heroes | Veterans |
Answering The Call |
Our Valiant Troops
Honoring The Fallen |
Don't Weep For Me |
Remember The Fallen |
Tears For Your Fallen |