The Maryland flag presented to the Aberdeen City Council on Monday is not quite like others flying around the state. It was a bit smaller than the usual size, a touch dirty and, perhaps, one of the faster flags in the world after accompanying an American pilot on a combat mission over Afghanistan.
But for thousands of miles of travel — sometimes at hundreds of miles per hour — the flag found a home in Aberdeen, as did the two who gifted it to the city.
James Walker has been in the military, or adjacent to it, for a long time — 25 years in the Army directing artillery, aerial fire support and heavy ordnance and, most recently, as a contractor. While advising special forces in Afghanistan in 2019, he kept at least one Maryland flag tucked into his body armor. The flag traveled with him all over the country, from Kabul to the east, Herat to the west and many places in between.
Walker had high hopes for the state flag. While in Afghanistan, he asked if it could be flown, so, parcel to a combat mission over Helmand Province, it went up in the cockpit of an A-10 jet on June 30, 2019. According to the U.S. Air Force’s website, an A-10 can reach speeds of over 400 miles per hour.
“It has some legs on it, and in the end, it got some wings on it,” Walker said.
In addition to its high-speed experience, the flag was flown above Camp Brown on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. That, and a couple of sandstorms, Walker said, explains why it was a bit dirty. It took a while to get to the city, Walker explained, because the flag was flown just before he went home on vacation, and he did not hear that it had completed its journey. Delays on presenting it to the city kept coming, culminating in the sea change of COVID-19.
As the flag lands in Aberdeen, so too do the Walkers. James and his wife Amelia Walker currently live on-post at Aberdeen Proving Ground, but they are working to build a home in the Eagle’s Rest community of the city. The couple decided to come to the city because of family ties to the area and the career opportunities it presents.
Some military installations do not mesh with the cities they neighbor, Amelia Walker said, but that was not the case with Aberdeen. Support between the base and the city needs to be mutual, she said, and in Aberdeen’s case, it is.
“Many towns that are built right there and conjoined with an installation … sometimes there is a good connection and sometimes there’s a disconnect,” Amelia Walker said. “I think there’s a good rapport and a good relationship here.”
Amelia Walker met Mayor Patrick McGrady through the Patriot Program, a voluntary program offered to elementary age students that teaches them about government and U.S. history. She invited McGrady to speak at one of its functions, and they got to talking. She and her husband agreed that giving the flag to the city was an appropriate way of offering thanks and getting involved in the community.
“Aberdeen is our community,” James Walker said. “This is where home is going to be after 25 years of being in the Army.”