By Jody Fuller
I’m going to use my space this week to brag on a friend of mine.
Jamie Popwell was born and raised in Opelika. Three days after his 18th birthday, the Opelika High graduate joined the United States Marine Corps. After the completion of his active duty commitment, he served three years in the Marine Corps Reserves to fulfill his military service obligation; however, his service didn’t stop there. He served in law enforcement and worked contracts through the Department of State and the United Nations.
His service continues today. Mr. Popwell is the founder and president at Flags for Vets, Inc., whose mission is “to honor and pay respect to a veteran’s faithful service and dutiful sacrifices by raising our nation’s flag on a lighted flagpole that has been donated in their honor by a sponsor or loved one.”
Although based out of Auburn, installations have taken him to 16 states and counting. He has visited 91 cities, flown 13,675 miles, and driven an additional, get this, 33,263 miles. That is true dedication.
“I felt that with all the media coverage surrounding the “right” to burn the flag, step on it, or desecrate it in any way, that there was a need to counter that with a show of respect for those that fought for that very freedom,” he says.
Flags for Vets supplies a flagpole and a flag for a veteran at no charge to them. The expenses are covered through donations and sponsorships. Popwell and fellow veteran, former police officer, and Opelika native Brantley Cargill travel to the recipient’s residence. “We stand around watching the concrete dry, so to speak,” says Popwell. “We get to know a little about them and their service. Sometimes they start crying and so do we.”
Each installation costs roughly $125. In addition to the flag and flagpole, the cost includes a solar mounted light and bags of white marble rock and Quikrete. Popwell covered the initial costs but word quickly spread, and donations started coming in from people who wanted to sponsor a veteran. There are family members sponsoring family members and friends sponsoring friends.
The list of recipients stretches as far back to veterans who served in World War II to veterans who served more recently in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom; however, having served in a conflict is not a determining factor.
Flags For Vets has now honored 185 veterans with flagpoles and flags. Among the sea of recipients are eight servicemembers who were awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest honor. The oldest veteran was 97, while the youngest was 25. The total number of flags presented to businesses and individuals stands at 225.
The most remarkable aspect of these numbers is that all of this has been done in the past year. The first install took place in Beulah, Ala., on January 27th and the 185th took place on December 30th. Popwell’s goal for the first year is to reach 200 veterans and is on pace to do that by January.
His goal for 2018 is to honor 300 veterans and to visit 10 more states, and he is very confident in his ability to reach these goals.
“My love for my country is second only to God and my family,” Popwell passionately states. “I developed an idea to pay it forward to our veterans in recognition for their service and sacrifice to our nation.
I’m truly amazed at what he’s been able to do in just one year. He’s impacted lives in ways that can’t be quantified. What can you do in 2018? You can honor a veteran through Flags For Vets, you can volunteer for something that is near and dear to your heart, or you can do something on your own. Just do something. Make 2018 a year of giving, and when you do that, trust me, you will be the one receiving.