03 April 2015

An Honor to Say Goodbye

There have been a lot of things that I could write about regarding my deployment.  But this is something I didn’t think I would see, and I wanted to convey it.

A few years ago, you woke up in the morning and read about an incident that happened in Afghanistan, not far from where I lived.  I won’t get into any details on the event,  you likely got them from the news.  Suffice it to say, I heard it.  It shook my front door and it was five miles away.  But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.

Several of the soldiers were wounded.  One of the soldiers lost his fight.

That afternoon, I had the honor of sending him and another soldier home to his family.   It’s called a ramp ceremony.  I lived and worked at Kandahar Air Field.  It was the point at which most Soldiers entered and left the southern district.  When a Soldier paid the ultimate price, we got notified and we all gathered on the ramp to send him or her home.  That day was no exception.

When I arrived at the entrance to the airfield, hundreds of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen gathered to say farewell.  They were not just Americans, but Australians, Canadians, British, Poles, Italians, Slovakians, Romanians, and Dutch.  They were all there to help bring freedom to Afghanistan.  We lived and fought side by side.  It was truly a brotherhood, making the send-off a very solemn event.  They were members of the family and we were all there to honor them.

On the airfield, all the units lined up and marched to the rear of the aircraft -  a C-17.  Picture a plane the size of a 727 whose sole purpose was to carry two souls home.  The formations stretched out facing each other, forming two columns with a corridor in the center.  Some of the fallen Soldiers’ comrades sat in wheelchairs near the airplane to say goodbye.  A few words were spoken by members of the Chaplain Corps.  One of the Soldiers went unnamed. Out of respect, I will not tell you who they were but one left a pregnant wife and two children back home.  I ask that you pray for them still today.

The national colors were brought down the corridor and salutes were rendered. The two honorable men who gave all they could give were carried by US service men in flag draped aluminum caskets.  As they made their way through the formation, Amazing Grace and Taps played, the men dropped their salutes, and the ramp of the plane slowly closed.  The flight crew carefully secured the vessels in the body of the plane.  This entire event is seen as an honor for all of them.  The flight crew never knows when they will be required to do this.  A plane is removed from rotation immediately when someone needs to be carried.  We don’t waste any time sending our brothers and sisters home for the last time.

It is a powerful statement to see hundreds of people who serve their nations standing on the hot sunny tarmac, rendering honor for someone they probably have never met and will never get the chance to meet.  I want to thank these people, and thank the families of the fallen for allowing their loved ones to help in our endeavors overseas.  Your sacrifice for the country will not be forgotten by the many that were there.  We would like you to know that they will have a revered trip home that would be worthy of a President of the United States.

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