A Columbus native who commands a specialized team for the U.S. Air Force decided to take a piece of home with him when he was deployed to the Middle East last year.
Lt. Col. Joe Swaim, who commands the 560th RED HORSE Squadron in Charleston, South Carolina, took a Columbus city flag, the Indiana state flag and a Purdue University flag.
Many of the other commanders who are deployed often do the same, he said.
Swaim kept the flags with him while deployed for six months as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, moving between air fields and bases in Qatar, Kuwait, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.
All three flags hung in his office in the quarters for the Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers units.
The units provide the U.S. Air Force with a highly mobile civil engineering force to support contingency and special operations worldwide.
The flags — along with pictures of his family — served as a nice reminder of home during the deployment, Swaim said.
The flags also flew above the RED HORSE quarters and traveled in aircraft with the unit.
After traveling thousands of miles throughout the Middle East, the Columbus flag returned home on Thursday afternoon, when Swaim presented it in a frame to Mayor Kristen Brown in her office in city hall.
Swaim then presented the mayor with a certificate of authenticity from the U.S. Air Force, a plaque confirming that the flag “was flown in the face of the enemy, and bears witness to the destruction, capture, interrogation and detainment of terrorist forces threatening the freedom of the United States of America.”
Swaim gave the Indiana flag to the mayor’s mother.
Brown called the moment touching, and thanked Swaim for the items.
“This is such a huge honor,” Brown said, accepting the flag and certificate on the city’s behalf.
Swaim said it’s the least he could do, considering the support that Brown — and her mother, Shirley Brown, who makes hand-made cards for veterans every year — and the city have shown for the community’s veterans and everything that Columbus has meant to him and his family.
“I really appreciate all the things that Columbus has offered me growing up,” Swaim said. “And this is a way to give back to Columbus and give to some special people in Columbus.”
Brown plans to hang the flag and certificate in her office.