HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
A pilot having an American flag in their cockpit can symbolize many things, but for U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Jerrell, the flag he puts in his cockpit honors his grandparents.
This tradition started when Jerrell, an instructor pilot at the 314th Fighter Squadron here, was stationed in Korea back in 2016. While he was over there, he was given the news that his grandmother had passed away.
“I remember having a flag back then but it never had a purpose before she passed,” said Jerrell. “However after she passed I started taking it on flights and did it as a way of honoring and remembering her.”
Jerrell’s tradition would take on another meaning last year when his grandfather passed away. His grandfather was a maintainer in the Air Force and was very supportive of Jerrell.
He has carried the flag with him from different fighter squadrons including the 80th FS, 555th FS, 36th FS, 121st FS, 3rd FS and it has been with him while he’s flown over Korea, Indonesia, Italy, Singapore, Greece, Morocco and other countries.
“Whenever I’m up in the air I always feel like I have their guidance,” he said. “At any point when I think there’s a challenging scenario, I always find an answer and when you’re in the air, every decision matters.”
Since he has been taking the flag with him up in the air, it has been on 720 flights, which equates to 1,231.4 hours of flying. Every time that he brings the flag with him in the air, Jerrell has the motivation to do the best that he can.
“Whenever I see the flag, I don’t necessarily get sad about my grandparents passing away,” he said. “Bringing the flag on my flights actually motivates me and drives me to do the best that I can in both my job and life.”
Having the resilience to overcome the challenges as a pilot has helped him cope with the stressors of the job. Having the flag with him on his flights gives him the feeling that his grandparents are watching over him, he said.
“My grandparents were very proud of me and everything that I’ve done,” he said. “Having the flag with me in the cockpit and carrying their beliefs with me drives me to do the best that I can and I strive to do that every time I go fly.”