In honor of WJ

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Paul Henderson
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Command Chief

A new ornament can now be seen by all who enter through the main gate here, perched high atop the flagpole proudly displaying our nation’s flag.   

The topper is in the shape of a spear-head and, much like Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico and Air Force Special Operations Command, has a rich and honorable heritage. 

The spear tip was hand made by two deployed AFSOC metals technicians to honor a fallen comrade, Tech. Sgt. William H. Jefferson, nicknamed WJ, a combat controller assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina.   

On March 22, 2008, WJ was conducting special operations in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom when his vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device.  He died from wounds sustained during the blast, and was survived by his wife, two daughters, other family members and numerous teammates and friends. He honorably served in the Air Force for 12 years and had planned to continue serving until retirement; he was 30 days from returning from his third combat tour overseas. 

Fast forward to late 2009, I was deployed as the senior enlisted leader for our Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component operating out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We were in the initial planning stages of building a new compound in Afghanistan that would serve as home for our deployed joint special operations teammates and enable us to counter terrorist forces in Afghanistan.  Our special operations leadership team agreed that this particular compound was going to be named Camp Jefferson after our fallen teammate WJ.    

Upon learning of the plans for Camp Jefferson and WJ’s personal story, two deployed special operations metals technicians, Staff Sgt. William Miller and Staff Sgt. Derek Spencer, 1st Expeditionary Special Operations Maintenance Squadron, designed and worked together to fabricate a fitting memorial in honor of WJ.   

Three 105mm brass rounds were cut down and flattened. An outline of a spearhead was drawn on each plate and cut out. The pieces were riveted together and bent to form a precise three-dimensional spearhead and were attached to a 40mm shell in order to mount it to the top of a flagpole. The 22-foot flagpole was acquired from Navy Seabees and the U.S. Army provided the pulleys and clips for the rope. 

This particular flag pole, with its spear-head top, proudly flew our nation’s flag in the face of the enemy for more than four years. On January 15, 2014, Camp Jefferson was inactivated and turned over to coalition forces. Chief Master Sgt. William Markham, CJSOAC-Afghanistan command chief and a personal friend of WJ, arranged for the flagpole and ornament to be carried home to U.S. soil by an MC-130J aircrew from Cannon’s own 522nd Special Operations Squadron. The ornament and flagpole were symbolically turned over to the 26th Special Tactics Squadron at Cannon until it could be mounted and displayed near the front gate.   

Plans include a permanent place within the 26 STS’s future home on the south side of base, but for now, this ornament greets everyone entering Cannon as a symbol of WJ’s legacy and sacrifice, and serves as a reminder that freedom is not free.