By Eric Dehm
When former Air Force Special Operations aviator Brian Steorts was recuperating from an injury suffered on active duty in Afghanistan, he wasn’t happy.
“I was going through some bad times for myself physically and mentally,” Steorts recalls. “I was sitting around one night, late at night, looking around online because I wanted a cool flag to hang in my house since I didn’t wear it on my uniform anymore. I had it on my shoulder for 12 years, and now I don’t have it.”
Steorts’ lingering question, “Where’s my flag?,” led him to a beautiful wooden flag online. It was exactly what he was looking for, except for one detail.
“It was made in China,” Steorts says.
“I can’t buy an American flag not made in the United States, so the next day I went out to my garage and I started woodworking.”
Steorts doesn’t mean he started a new project, he means he had never worked with wood before in his life. He was brand new to the craft, and it showed.
“I was pretty awful,” Steorts admits.
“My first couple of flags were pretty bad. What I found was it was very therapeutic. Here I was in Florida, 100 degrees out, I’m in a neck brace in my garage and I think most people would say it’s uncomfortable but I looked forward to it every day.”
As time went on Steorts got better.
Once he was happy with the flags he was producing, he began giving his flags to people, starting with a recent widow who lived in his neighborhood.
He felt proud of being able to give her something he had created and kept giving flags to various individuals and organizations.
Soon, word got out about the veteran making wooden flags in his driveway and people would show up at his garage asking to buy one.
It was around this point in time that Steorts thought there might be a future in his new hobby.
He began laying the groundwork for Flags of Valor (FOV), a company launched in 2015, that has grown from one man alone in his garage to a team of eighteen. Fifteen of those members are combat veterans, something that Steorts says was important to him, and is one of three core ideas behind FOV.
“I wanted to hire combat veterans because I am one, and I know what drives them,” Steorts says. “But I really know this was so therapeutic to me, so I want them to be able to not only just come to work but be getting this therapy at the same time and not even know it.”
The other two core ideas behind FOV are giving back, just like Steorts did with his first flag given to the widow at the end of his driveway, and creating a product that is 100% made in America, from inception to completion, every FOV flag is created in America, by an American, with American tools.
Since beginning the company, things have grown substantially, with national exposure on Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends after setting up a booth at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and ABC World News Tonight this past Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s been crazy and it’s amazing,” Steorts says. “We now have 15 combat veterans on staff, a combat veteran’s sister, a combat veteran’s spouse. We’re growing and it’s because of everyone’s support and because of the national exposure.”
In fact, FOV is currently looking to hire more combat veterans and Steorts tells CBS Radio’s ConnectingVets that anyone who is interested in joining their team can reach out to the FOV team directly by e-mail at info@FlagsOfValor.com
“No offense to the rest of the country but I want to hire veterans,” Steorts says.
“In a high stress, dynamic environment, you can teach them over a year and a half and send them overseas to combat and they succeed and perform. I’m pretty sure that person can come and learn how to work a saw and understand how to do it quickly. It’s amazing. These guys are incredible not just in what they did in their service, but what they bring to the table afterwards.”
There are no plans to stop growing, and Steorts says they will keep bringing veterans to the FOV table for the foreseeable future.